At least five people have died and more than 20 are still unaccounted for after the White Island Whakaari volcano off the coast of New Zealand erupted without warning on Monday as tourists hiked around the rim and walked inside the crater. Authorities say that between 30 and 38 of those on the island when the volcano erupted were on an adventure excursion from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that was docked on North Island about 30 miles away. Kevin O’Sullivan, the chief executive officer of the New Zealand Cruise Association and Royal Caribbean cruise lines confirmed that tourists from the “Ovation of the Seas” ship were involved. He said the names and nationalities of those who were on the volcano for the cruise line’s “epic adventure excursion” have been handed to New Zealand police.About ten minutes before the volcano erupted at 2:11 p.m. local time, a crater rim webcam owned by the New Zealand Geological Hazards Agency GeoNet captured an image of a group of tourists approaching the crater. The next image shows only crumpled hardware after the camera was damaged in the eruption.John Tims, New Zealand National Operation Commander, told a news conference on Monday that toxic gases, burning ash, and lava have made conditions unsafe for rescue crews to search for survivors on the island. The dead were among 23 people immediately evacuated after the eruption. All those rescued had burn injuries. Authorities say around 50 people were on the tiny 1.2 mile square mile island at the time it erupted without warning. Several tourists posted photos of the eruption on social media as they watched in horror as the volcano erupted, sending a plume of hot ash some two miles into the sky. Michael Schade, an engineering manager from San Francisco, posted footage of the eruption from an excursion vessel he and several others were on as it sped away. “This is so hard to believe,” Schade wrote. “Our whole tour group were literally standing at the edge of the main crater not 30 minutes before.” The active volcano encompasses all of the tiny privately-owned island about 30 miles from New Zealand’s North Island. It has been in a constant state of volcanic activity for more than 150,000 years. The last major eruption was in 2001, though the volcano has spewed spouts of dangerous steam from its vents in recent years. Despite the dangerous volcanic state, more than 10,000 adventure tourists visit the island each year, paying landing license to the island’s owners. The island also hosts a mobile research station but no residential accommodation, and tourists are warned of the potential for eruption and made to sign waivers regarding the potential danger they face on the live volcano, according to several websites offering volcano tours. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was heading to Whakatāne in the Bay of Plenty which is the closest safe area to the disaster zone. She told reporters that the situation was still “significant and evolving.” “We know that there were a number of tourists on or around the island at the time, both New Zealanders and visitors from overseas,” she said. “I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who had loved ones on or around the island at the time. I can assure them that police are doing everything they can.” This story is developing. Read more at The Daily Beast.Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast hereGet our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
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