Several people were injured and others reported missing on Monday, December 9 as New Zealand mounted a rescue effort after a volcano erupted off the east coast of its North Island, spewing a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air. About 50 people were in the vicinity when the eruption began about 2:11 pm (0111 GMT) on White Island, police said on Monday. About 100 people were earlier feared to have been nearby.

Lava cools in Leilani Estates in the aftermath of the Kilauea volcano eruption on Hawaii's Big Island on May 10, 2018 in Pahoa, HawaiPhoto by Mario Tama/Getty Images

People injured transported to shore

The White Island is about 50 km (30 miles) from the east coast of North Island and huge plumes were visible from the mainland. "A number of people are reportedly injured and are now being transported to shore," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference, adding that a rescue operation had begun, though it was too early to confirm any injuries or deaths. "It does appear to be a very significant issue...particularly the scale of people affected, at this stage," she added.

White island
Image: Map locating White Island in New Zealand, Reuters

Many of those affected could be tourists, she said. At least one of those taken to shore was critically injured, police said. A no-fly zone has been set up, they added in a statement. "I'm not sure if these people were on the island or near it, but there was definitely one group out there and they definitely needed medical care," said Judy Turner, the mayor of the nearby coastal town of Whakatāne.

"There were some injuries and the focus is on getting these injured people back safely and to get them to a hospital." There seemed to be no danger for people in coastal areas farther away, she added. The island's immediate surroundings were hazardous because of the eruption, the National Emergency Management Agency said in a statement, adding that falling ash might affect some areas.

White Island volcano, New Zealand's most active

The "short-lived eruption" threw an ash plume about 12,000 ft (3,658 m) high, New Zealand's geoscience agency GNS Science said in a statement but added there were no current signs of an escalation. The White Island volcano is one of New Zealand's most active.