Heads up to those travelling to New Zealand: a volcano has erupted in White Island with about 50 people in the vicinity, leaving tourists injured and missing.
White Island – or also known as Whakaari – is off the coast of North Island, and is one of the country’s most active volcanoes. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the volcano had erupted while groups of tourists were visiting.
The volcanic eruption began around 14:11 local time (01:11 GMT). Visitor Michael Schade, who was on a boat leaving the island, filmed the eruption, showing a thick plume of ash and smoke above the mountain.
He told the BBC he had been at the crater just 30 minutes before the eruption.
“We had just got on the boat and left and we were sitting on it for around 10 minutes eating lunch, it was driving away very slowly because we were all eating. Then someone pointed it out and we saw it. I was basically just shocked. The boat turned back and we grabbed some people that were waiting on the pier,” shares Schade.
Travel and Safety Concerns
Half a day after the incident was first reported at BBC, twenty-three people have been rescued from the island, with one in critical condition and a further 20 are injured.
The privately-owned island sits about 50 kilometers (30 miles) offshore from mainland New Zealand. Despite being one of the country’s most active volcanoes, it is a tourist destination with frequent day tours and scenic flights available. In fact, White Island has seen several eruptions over the years, most recently in 2016 and with no casualties.
White Island/Whakaari in New Zealand. Photo: BBC
With all that said, there are questions as to why tourists were still able to visit the island, especially after scientists recently noted an uptick in volcanic activity.
“It was still safe-ish but they were trying to limit the group sizes [of people visiting the volcano],” shares Schade to BBC, when asked about what happened at the volcano.
Another witness, Allessandro Kauffmann, narrowly missed the eruption. He mentions that, “there were two tours that went to this volcano today. One of them was ours, which was the first. We left five minutes before the volcano erupted.”
Authorities have mentioned that the island is still too dangerous for police and rescue teams to visit, let alone tourists. So best to keep any plans of visiting the area on hold until further notice.
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