Up to three Australians have been killed after a volcano erupted in New Zealand, with eight others still missing and 13 in hospital.

White Island, also known as Whakaari, erupted off New Zealand’s North Island on Monday afternoon.

The 24 Australians caught up in the blast are aged between 17 and 72.

“I fear there is worse news to come over the course of perhaps today or over the next few days,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday morning.

“This is a terrible tragedy, a time of great innocence and joy interrupted by the horror of that eruption.

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Five people are dead after the blast which caught tourists, including Australians, unawares.

Thirty-one people are in hospital while three were discharged overnight.

After a frantic search for information on Monday, police now believe there were 47 people in two groups on the volcano at the time of the blast.

One group was evacuated but the other was caught out by the eruption.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in the nearby town of Whakatane, confirmed six nationalities were among the 13 dead or missing: Australia, New Zealand, United States, United Kingdom, China and Malaysia.

“To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your unfathomable grief at this moment in time and in your sorrow,” Ardern said.

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“Your loved ones stood alongside Kiwis who were hosting you here and we grieve with you and we grieve with them.

“To our Australian family especially, we will do everything we can to support you as you have supported us.

“I have been in regular communication with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison from yesterday evening and will continue to do so across the course of the day.

“Our duty is to return loved ones and … there is much work to be done.”

A number of people from a visiting cruise ship, the Ovation of the Seas, which originated in Sydney were caught up in the unfolding tragedy.

Throughout Monday, police attempted to contact those who remained on the island during the blast without success while also trying to discover how many people were missing.

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In a late-night statement, police dashed hopes of finding anyone else alive, saying ,”Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island.”

On Tuesday morning, Acting Assistant Commissioner Bruce Bird, alongside Ardern, said it was still not safe to return to Whakaari.

“Today our focus will be on working with the experts in determining the safety for us to return to the island to look to recover those people who are currently missing,” Bird said.

“We will be relying on advice coming from a scientific and technical committee in Wellington … we will only go to the island when it is safe to do so for our people.”

Family and friends have confirmed local man Hayden Marshall-Inman, a tour guide for White Island Tours, as one of the dead.

AAP.

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