The Whakaari, or White Island, volcano suddenly and unexpectedly burst into life at around 2.15pm local time, sending a plume of ash and debris 3,657 metres above the mainland. Five people are confirmed to be dead and 20 more missing, with police deputy commissioner John Tims saying there “are likely to be more” casualties. Despite the fact that White Island sits 48 kilometres (30 miles) away from the Bay of Plenty, on the north island’s east coast, the Civil Defence for New Zealand has warned people to stay inside.

With ash and debris being ploughed so high into the air, there is a chance wind can carry it over from White Island to the Bay of Plenty, causing volcanic discharge to rain down on the citizens.

The Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management said on its website: “A volcanic eruption is occurring at White Island and is hazardous in the immediate vicinity of the volcano.

“Volcanic hazards may impact areas on and near the volcano.

“Ash falls may impact areas distant from the volcano. People should stay out of designated restricted zones.”

“Be aware of the potential for ashfall. Consider staying indoors. Volcanic ash could be a health hazard, especially if you suffer from breathing difficulties.

“When indoors, close all windows and doors to limit the entry of volcanic ash.

“If caught in volcanic ashfalls: Wear a dust mask or use a cloth handkerchief over your nose and mouth; protect your eyes by wearing goggles. Wear eyeglasses, NOT contact lenses as fine ash will get under the lens.

“Listen to the radio and/or TV for further assessment and updates.

“Effects of a volcanic eruption can be experienced many kilometres from a volcano.”

The New Zealand Police also confirmed: “A no-fly zone has been established.”

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the media: “Police were alerted at 2.17pm.

“At this stage, and please do keep in mind this is an evolving situation, we believe around 100 people were on or around the island at the time and some of those are at this stage unaccounted for.

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“I want to share this is evolving at this stage, at this stage it does appear to be a very significant issue, particularly the scale of those affected.”

Whakaari is one of New Zealand’s most active volcano, with continuous activity for the past 150,000 years.

On December 3, New Zealand’s GeoNet warned “the volcano may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal.”

However, it said “the current level of activity does not pose a direct hazard to visitors”.

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