At least one British tourist is among those missing or injured after a volcano erupted in New Zealand, the country’s prime minister has said.
Jacinda Ardern confirmed that people from New Zealand, Australia, the UK, the US, China and Malaysia were among those affected by the eruption on White Island on Monday.
Speaking at a media briefing on Tuesday morning, Ms Ardern said there were 47 people on the island – five are dead, eight are missing, 31 are in hospital and three were discharged overnight.
She said: “To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief at this moment in time and in your sorrow.
“Your loved ones stood alongside Kiwis who are hosting you here and we grieve with you and we grieve with them.”
The prime minister added that several aerial reconnaissance flights had taken place since the eruption, but that there were still “no signs of life” remaining on the island.
Police will not carry out ground searches until safety guarantees have been made, with the emergency services waiting for advice from experts in Wellington.
It had been feared that the number of people unaccounted for was in double figures, and officials said on Monday that none of the missing were believed to have survived.
Several people were seen near the rim of the crater just before the eruption at 2.11pm local time (1.11am UK time).
Some of those involved are believed to be from Ovation of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean International cruise ship.
Officers were hoping to locate the people who are unaccounted for through its passenger list.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that 24 Australians were visiting the island as part of the cruise ship tour group – and some of them are unaccounted for.
He warned earlier: “We must prepare for some difficult news in the days ahead.”
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was in “close contact” with authorities in New Zealand and was seeking further information.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Devastating scenes in New Zealand. I’ve been in contact with Prime Minister @jacindaardern to express our deepest sympathies. There are many people still feared missing, and my heart goes out to all those affected and their families.”
Despite Ms Ardern describing the eruption as “very significant”, it is not expected to have a strong impact on another island about 30 miles west of White Island, named North Island.
The GeoNet agency said the eruption, which threw smoke and debris 12,000ft into the air, was moderate and raised its alert level to four – on a scale where five represents a major eruption.
Dr Ken Gledhill, technical adviser at GNS Science, said it was “not a particularly big eruption” and was “almost like a throat clearing kind of eruption which is why material won’t make it to the mainland”.
He added: “For volcanic eruptions it’s not large, but if you were close it’s not good. It’s shown increased activity over the past few weeks so we raised the alert. We can’t be certain there won’t be another eruption in the next 24 hours.”
There have been questions asked as to why tourists were still able to visit the island after scientists recently noticed an uptick in volcanic activity.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean said: “We can confirm that a number of our guests were touring the island today. We do not have any additional details to share at this time.”
Police have told people to avoid areas on North Island that are close to the eruption.
These include the Whakatane Heads and Muriwai Drive areas, and a no-fly zone has also been established after video from the scene showed a helicopter damaged in the eruption.
White Island, also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari, is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano – and about 70% of the volcano is under the sea.
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.
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 now allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.