Police say there are still a number of people unaccounted for following an eruption on White Island.
A SunLive photographer at the cordon on Muriwai Drive described the scene as insane
“It’s really bad,I don’t have any words for it, it’s insane.”
He says there are multiple people being wheeled into ambulances.
“There a multiple people with severe burns.
“The ambulances are driving at high speeds shuttling people back and forth to the hospital.
“A tour boat came back from the island covered in ash.”
The Whakatane Beacon is reporting that many of the people on White Island are passengers from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, which is currently berthed at the Port of Tauranga.
The SunLive photographer says he has seen a cruise ship bus enter the cordon.
“There is a huge police presence as well.”
The New Zealand Cruise Association says they are very concerned about some visitors to White Island at the time of the eruption who are passengers from the Ovation of the Seas
"Our hope is that everyone will be recovered quickly and unharmed, but at this time we have no further information.”
Police are working with National Emergency Management Agency to coordinate a search and rescue operation following a volcanic eruption at White Island this afternoon.
The eruption occurred about 2:11pm.
"While it was initially believed there were about 100 people on or near the island at the time of the eruption, we now believe there were fewer than 50," says a police spokesperson.
"Some of those people have been transported to shore, however a number believed to be on the island are currently unaccounted for.
"Of those transported to shore, at least one has been critically injured."
Emergency services are working to ensure the safety of everyone involved, including rescue staff.
A volcanic eruption is hazardous in the immediate vicinity of the volcano, says a police spokesperson.
"Volcanic hazards may impact on and near the volcano. Ashfall may impact areas distant from the volcano.
"People should stay out of designated restricted zones. A no-fly zone has been established.
People living in or near the affected ashfall areas should:
1.Be aware of the potential for ashfall. Consider staying indoors. Volcanic ash could be a health hazard, especially if you suffer from breathing difficulties.
2.When indoors, close all windows and doors to limit the entry of volcanic ash.
3.If caught in volcanic ashfalls: Wear a dust mask or use a cloth handkerchief over your nose and mouth; protect your eyes by wearing goggles. Wear eyeglasses, NOT contact lenses as fine ash will get under the lens.
4.Listen to the radio and/or TV for further assessment and updates.
5.Effects of a volcanic eruption can be experienced many kilometres from a volcano.
SunLive is live at the scene and will continue to provide updates where possible.