Five people have been confirmed dead after a volcano erupted in New Zealand off the coast of the Bay of Plenty. A rescue effort has been launched amid reports that around 50 people may have been on or near the island.

“At this stage, it is too dangerous for police and rescue to go onto the island… [It] is currently covered in ash and volcanic material,” Deputy Commissioner of Police John Tims told reporters. Police later confirmed five people have died.

Police earlier said that fewer than 50 people may have been near or on the island during the eruption, and some of them are still “unaccounted for,” while others have been evacuated. At least one person was reported as being critically injured.

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The majority of those who have been affected by the eruption are said to be tourists who arrived on the island on board the cruise ship ‘Ovation of the Sea,’ the largest cruise vessel on the route.

The volcano erupted at around 2:11pm local time, ejecting plumes of ash and grey smoke 12,000 feet into the air.

A no-fly zone has been declared around the island.

Despite being the country’s most active volcano, prone to sudden eruptions, White Island has remained a popular tourist attraction, attracting crowds of eager visitors every day on boat and walking tours.

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