Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison: "Our authorities are working closely with the New Zealand authorities to be able to identify all of those people who are currently in hospital. Some of them have very serious injuries. We know there are a number in critical conditions."

Five people are dead, including a New Zealand tour guide, a Malaysian and three Australians. A further 31 people are in hospitals with horrific burns, and another eight Australians are unaccounted for after a volcano erupted on White Island on New Zealand’s North Island.

A party of tourists aboard the Royal Caribbean-owned Ovation of the Seas cruise ship were among those on the privately owned island when it erupted at 2.11pm local time, releasing thick clouds of ash about 12,000 feet into the air.

White Island, also called Whakaari, is 48km from the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, in the Bay of Plenty. It is an active volcano and is only accessible with a tour guide. Forty-seven including tourists and staff were on the island when it erupted. A second eruption occurred immediately after the first.

white island, jason griffiths
Jason Griffiths, of Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia, is in a critical condition after suffering extensive burns. Photo: Facebook

“We fear of the five deceased persons, that three of those, up to three, are Australians — but that is not yet confirmed,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Sydney this morning, news.com.au reported.

“Our authorities are working closely with the New Zealand authorities to be able to identify all of those people who are currently in hospital. Some of them have very serious injuries.

“We know there are a number in critical conditions.

“Obviously there are quite severe burns issues and that’s why they are in so many different hospitals because they have been taken to the various burns units across New Zealand, but the full details of all of their conditions is not yet known.”

White island, volcanic eruption

Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust transferred three intensive care paramedics, two doctors and blood supplies to White Island. It also took two female patients in a critical condition to Middlemore Hospital, Auckland. One of those patients was described as “young”, it said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the New Zealand Parliament that questions about what happened will have to be answered.

“We know too there will be bigger questions in relation to this event,” she said.

“These questions must be asked and must be answered.”

Ardern praised the “incredible job” of first responders to the White Island eruption.

“An incredible team,” she said at Whakatane fire station.

“What a community that exists here. Firefighters, police, St. John all on the ground and assisting.

“All of them risked an incredible amount to do that and I’m sure people want to give them the recognition they deserve.

“They worked very very quickly to make sure people got the critical care they needed where they needed to and now in the aftermath working through all the information we need to give more information to victims families and also to those who want to provide consular assistance.”

White Island, volcanic eruption

The Ovation of the Seas cruise ship had left Sydney last Wednesday, stopped at New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, Auckland and docked in Tauranga for 24 hours, allowing people to head off on tours to Rotorua, ride a jetboat or visit an active volcano: White Island.