A volcano in New Zealand that's become a popular tourist attraction erupted suddenly Monday afternoon, leaving at least five people dead and another 18 injured, officials in New Zealand said.
The powerful explosion on White Island, which is located about 29 miles off of New Zealand's North Island, occurred at 2:11 p.m. local time Monday afternoon, when an estimated 50 tourists were still on or around the volcano's crater. Some eighteen people were evacuated, with some of those survivors having severe burns, with another 27 people unaccounted for. More than 20 Australians and 3 Britons are believed to be among the missing, according to a list assembled by family and friends on the International Committee of the Red Cross website.
Dan Harvey, who works as a commercial fisherman and was out at sea at the time of the explosion told Radio New Zealand that the explosion looked "like what you see of a nuclear bomb going off."
"The way it just expanded around itself and just went straight up into the sky," Harvey said.
According to the outlet, rescue teams have flown aerial reconnaissance missions over White Island since the eruption on Monday, however, there are "no signs of life."
"No signs of life have been seen at any point," police said in a statement released Tuesday.
Search and rescue operations have been stalled because the island has become too dangerous for rescue crews to approach the island, according to John Tims, the deputy commissioner of the national police.
One witness tweeted video of the volcano erupting shortly after he and his family had gotten off the island twenty minutes before it had erupted.
"My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland," Michael Schade of San Francisco wrote.
Schade told NBC News that his family was just beginning to eat lunch on a tour boat when the volcano began to erupt. The tour boat crew quickly got everyone inside and sped away from the dock.
"It went from nothing going on to it erupting," he said.
The boat turned around and went back to rescue people who were waiting on the pier, some of whom had injuries, including burns.
"There was one woman in particular that my mom stayed with and she just had a hard time all together staying awake," he said. "For other people it was just trying to soothe their burns as best you could without making it worse."
Video cameras owned by GeoNet showed the moments leading up to the eruption. Reuters reports that images taken from one of the cameras posted around the rim showed a group of people right at the edge of the rim moments before the volcano exploded.
White Island is a popular spot for birdwatchers and tourists aboard cruise ships that pass through the area.
Photo: Getty Images