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WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A volcano on a small, uninhabited New Zealand island erupted Monday afternoon, and authorities asked people nearby to avoid the area.

The volcano is on White Island, northeast of the North Island town of Tauranga. It is regularly visited by small groups of tourists, but it is not clear if any people were on the island at the time.

GeoNet agency said a moderate volcanic eruption had occurred and raised its alert level to four, on a scale where five represents a major eruption.

Police were asking people to avoid areas on the North Island that were close to the eruption, including the Whakatane Heads and Muriwai Drive areas.

White Island sits about 50 kilometres (30 miles) offshore from mainland New Zealand.

GeoNet says it is New Zealand's most active cone volcano and about 70 per cent of the volcano is under the sea.

Whakaari/White Island is erupting. More information soon. pic.twitter.com/B5m4BSa4bt

— GeoNet (@geonet) December 9, 2019

Twelve people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulphur. Part of a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the miners' village and the mine itself.

The remains of buildings from another mining enterprise in the 1920s are now a tourist attraction, according to GeoNet.

The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

The island is also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari.

More on this story from CTVNews.ca