AT least one tourist is dead and more fatalities are feared after a massive volcano eruption on a remote island off New Zealand on Monday.
A 12,000ft plume of smoke and rock blasted from the White Island volcano at around 2:10pm local time – just minutes after visitors were apparently spotted trekking through its crater in a chilling last photo.
A chilling final photo from inside the crater appears to show a group trekking through the volcano moments before it erupted[/caption]
A group of visitors can seemingly be seen walking through the crater on White Island minutes before the eruption[/caption]
This image shows the huge eruption just minutes after a group were apparently seen in the crater[/caption]
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ahern said up 100 people were on or near the island at the time of the “very significant” blast.
Police later revised this figure down to around 50 before confirming that at least one person had died and 23 people had been rescued in unknown conditions.
Mrs Ahern warned that many people were unaccounted for after the violent eruption – which experts initially marked as four out of a maximum five for its power.
The PM said: “A number of people are reportedly injured and are being transported to shore.”
A scientific monitoring camera appeared to capture a group of tourists walking through the volcano’s crater at 2:10pm – minutes before the eruption.
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CHILLING LAST PHOTO
The camera – which takes a new still image every ten minutes – did not take another clear shot and is believed to have been buried in rubble from the blast.
A fleet of rescue helicopters was dispatched to send emergency workers to the area in the hope of finding survivors.
Tourists from Royal Caribbean cruise liner Ovation Of The Seas were visiting the island on Monday morning, according Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns.
Mr Cairns claimed the majority of those injured in the eruption are from the ship – although Royal Caribbean have not commented.
Calvin Kingi, of White Island Tours, said his company’s group got off the island just in time.
He wrote on Facebook: “White Island just erupted as we left, we have our work mates and a tour still on the island, I hope they okay.”
And tourist Michael Schade gave a harrowing account of the blast – saying his tour boat left the island just 30 minutes earlier.
He wrote on Twitter: “Woman my mom tended to was in critical condition but seemed strong by the end.
“The helicopters on the island looked destroyed.”
Authorities asked people on North Island, one of New Zealand’s two main islands, to avoid areas nearest the volcano – about 30 miles from the mainland.
The “short-lived eruption” threw an ash plume about 12,000ft high, New Zealand’s geoscience agency GNS Science said in a statement.
White Island, northeast of the North Island town of Tauranga, is regularly visited by small groups of tourists – but it’s not clear how many were visiting at the time.
The cone volcano is New Zealand’s most active and about 70 per cent of it is below sea level.
Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulphur.
Part of a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the miners’ village and the mine itself.
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The remains of buildings from another mining enterprise in the 1920s are now a tourist attraction
The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.
White Island is also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.
More to follow…
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