WELLINGTON: At least one Malaysian has been confirmed dead by New Zealand authorities after a volcano erupted on a popular tourist island in the country.
The Malaysian High Commission in Wellington said in a Facebook post on Tuesday (Dec 10) that it was informed of the death by local officials at 9.30am.
The number of confirmed fatalities in the eruption rose to six Tuesday night after an injured person died in an Auckland hospital, police said.
Eight people were still missing after White Island, one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes, spewed a plume of ash 3,668m into the sky.
"Further details are being obtained as the investigation progress," said the Malaysian High Commission.
"We are working closely with the local authorities and will continue to update from time to time."
New Zealand's Prime Minister said that tourists from Australia, the United States, Britain, China were also among the missing and injured, along with New Zealanders. She has said there would be a government inquiry into the incident.
Reconnaissance flights showed no signs of life on White Island, as eyewitnesses detailed the horrific burns suffered by some survivors.
"To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief in this moment at time and in your sorrow," Ardern said at a news conference in Whakatane, a town on the mainland's east coast, some 50km from White Island.
A crater rim camera owned and operated by New Zealand's geological hazards agency GeoNet showed one group of people walking away from the rim inside the crater just a minute before the explosion.
"It's now clear that there were two groups on the island - those who were able to be evacuated and those who were close to the eruption," Ardern added.
Rescuers have been unable to access the island, which is covered in grey ash. GNS Science, New Zealand's geoscience agency, warned there was a 50/50 chance of another eruption in the coming 24 hours, as the volcano vent continued to emit "steam and mud jetting".
A New Zealand man, Geoff Hopkins, whose tour group was just leaving the island at the time of the eruption, said he helped pull critically injured survivors into a boat.
Hopkins, 50, who was given the tour as a birthday gift, said many of the survivors had run into the sea to escape the eruption.
"They were just so massively burnt," he told the NZ Herald newspaper. "People were in shorts and T-shirts so there was a lot of exposed skin that was massively burnt."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday three Australians were feared to be among the confirmed fatalities, with 13 among the injured.
"I fear there is worse news to come," Morrison said.
About 30 people were hospitalised, many with critical injuries, Ardern said, adding that authorities were still assessing how close rescuers can get to the island.
"Ash is obviously significant," she said after visiting with first responders. "We've heard reports of one boat returning with up to half a meter of ash."
UK High Commissioner to NZ, Laura Clark, confirmed on Twitter that two British women were among the injured in hospital.
Russell Clark, an intensive care paramedic with a helicopter team, said the early scenes were overwhelming.
"Everything was just blanketed in ash," he told Reuters. "It was quite an overwhelming feeling."