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At Least Five Dead After Devastating Volcano Eruption

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said emergency services are now operating a recovery mission, not a rescue mission for those still missing after the White Island volcano eruption on Monday.

Ardern confirmed New Zealanders, as well as tourists from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and Malaysia, were visiting the island when the volcano erupted.

She said missing Australians were of "significant interest" to authorities.

There were 24 Australians on the island at the time in addition to two tourists from the UK, four from Germany, five from New Zealand, two from China, one from Malaysia and nine from the US.

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The explosion.  Image: Twitter.

"To our Australian family, especially, we'll do everything we can to support you as you have supported us," Ardern told media.

"I have been in regular communication with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison through yesterday evening and will continue to do so over the course of the day as we're able to provide more information."

Five people have been confirmed dead and a further 31 people are in hospital after the volcano -- which is New Zealand's most active --  exploded three times on Monday afternoon. There have been reports towns on the mainland have received about half-a-metre of volcanic ash following the explosion.

Tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman has been named among the dead by his brother Mark Inman. Mark shared the tragic news on Facebook on Monday evening.

"Friends and family, very sad news this evening. My bro Hayden Marshall-Inman has passed away doing the one thing he loved," Mark wrote.

Tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman is among those who have died in the eruption Image: Facebook/

Victims are being treated for burns and other injuries across New Zealand in Wellington, Auckland, Middlemore, Christchurch and Whakatane.

"[We are] using all the expertise of the burns units throughout the country [so] people get the most appropriate critical care," Ardern said.

Image provided by visitor Michael Schade shows White Island volcano, as it erupts, in the Bay of Plenty. Image: AAP.

The New Zealand defence force together with the police and government gathered at Whakatane on the North Island on Tuesday.

The defence force launched drones over the Island to assess the state of it before moving to recover those still unaccounted for.

Ardern reiterated that no emergency crews will be deployed to the Island until it has been deemed safe.

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"We will not be moving them until we're satisfied that it is safe to go on to the island," Ardern said.

"At this point, they're making sure that there's a safe distance, that people are maintaining around the perimeter of the island particularly while it's as volatile as it is. They'll also be assisting with any potential reconnaissance mission or further recovery."

Image: AAP/Reuters.

Meanwhile, tour company White Island Tours website has been taken down and replaced with a message saying: “We are currently experiencing an emergency. For further information please contact us directly.”

White Island is one of New Zealand's most popular tourist spots and is regarded as one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world.

Anyone concerned about loved ones can call DFAT's 24-hour consular emergency number on 1300 555 135 from within Australia or +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas. New Zealand police say people from overseas can call +64 9105 105 to submit information regarding friends or family who might have been visiting White Island during the eruption. 

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au