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White Island volcano eruption: Tourists injured and missing in New Zealand

WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND - JANUARY 18: A general view of the offices of White Island Tours who were in charge of the boat that sunk off Whakatane Coast on January 18, 2016 in Whakatane, New Zealand. Around 50 people were onboard the boat when the fire started. (Photo by Mead Norton/Getty Images)

NEW ZEALAND (CNN) — An unknown number of people are believed to be missing or injured after a volcano on New Zealand’s popular White Island tourist destination erupted Monday.

Speaking at a press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that search and rescue crews were assisting at the site of the eruption, which is located off the eastern coast of the North Island.

“At this stage we believe around 100 people were around or on the island, at this stage, not all of them are accounted for,” she said. She said it was too early to say how bad the injuries were but added it was her understanding that a number of those affected were tourists.

Speaking to CNN-affiliate Radio New Zealand, St John Ambulance said that up to 20 people are believed to have been injured in the eruption, adding that a mobile triage unit was on its way.

Photos from New Zealand’s official geological hazard information site Geonet showed a huge plume of white smoke rising above the island on Monday afternoon, local time.

“Whakaari/White Island is erupting. More information soon,” announced GeoNet in a notice on their official Twitter.

The White Island or Whakaari volcano is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano according to the GeoNet website. It has been built up by more than 150,000 years of volcanic activity.

A cone volcano is the most immediately recognizable mountain-shaped variety, as opposed to shield volcanoes or calderas which are far more flat in shape.

A volcanic ash advisory was issued at 2.30 p.m. local time (8.30 p.m. ET Sunday) by MetService, New Zealand’s meteorological service. New Zealand Police called for people in the affected ashfall areas to stay indoors.

The Volcanic Alert Level has been raised to 4, and the Aviation Color code is orange, according to GeoNet.

New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency said the eruption occurring at White Island is “hazardous in the immediate vicinity of the volcano” and that the agency is assessing the situation with scientific advisors to determine the severity of the threat.

“Detailed safety advice will come from local authorities and emergency services in the area. Act on it promptly,” the agency said on its Twitter.

Whakaari/White Island is dubbed “one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes” on a White Island Tours website, which offers ocean cruises near the island and a guided tour depending on the status of the varying volcanic alert levels.

According to the GeoNet website, more than 10,000 people visit the island every year.