At 2.17 PM local time (01.17 AM GMT) on December 9, with a blast of ash and debris sent a staggering 3.6 kilometres into the sky. At least five people were killed as a result of the blast, with that number expected to rise as more than 20 people are still confirmed missing. The White Island eruption was unexpected, with volcano monitoring services stating there was very little warning that a volcanic explosion was on its way.
Deputy commissioner John Timms of New Zealand police said authorities are still unable to access the island, located 48 kilometres off of the coast of the North Island’s Bay of Plenty, found on the east side.
He added: “The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island”.
Is White Island volcano still erupting?
Volcano monitoring services have said the eruption was short lived, and activity appears to have died down.
Geoff Kilgour, duty volcanologist for New Zealand’s GeoNet, said the situation remains unpredictable, but there are “no signs of escalation”.
Mr Kilgour said: “We are aware that people were on the island immediately before the eruption and we express our concern for their safety.
“Our monitoring data shows that there was a short-lived eruption that generated an ash plume to ~12,000ft above the vent.
Following the eruption, the Volcanic Alert Level was raised to level four.
However, in the ensuing hours, it was decreased to level three.
According to GeoNet, a Level Three warning means there is “minor” activity and eruption hazards remain near the vent.
This means “ash, lava flow, and lahar (mudflow) hazards may impact areas distant from the volcano” could still be in progress.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the media: “Police were alerted at 2.17pm.
“At this stage, and please do keep in mind this is an evolving situation, we believe around 100 people were on or around the island at the time and some of those are at this stage unaccounted for.
“I want to share this is evolving at this stage, at this stage it does appear to be a very significant issue, particularly the scale of those affected.”