“No one warned us how dangerous it could be,” tourists who fell victim to one of the country’s worst disasters, the 2019 volcanic eruption on Wakaari or the Isle of Wight, said at a trial in New Zealand. In their testimony, cited by the New Zealand press, they described their horror and pain from being hit by hot sand, ash and stones – as well as what they had to endure afterwards.
Recall that once the Isle of Wight in New Zealand, located 48 kilometers from its northern island, was an extremely popular tourist destination, and visiting an active volcano was its “highlight”. However, on December 9, 2019, everything went wrong – tourists ended up on the island during the explosion of the volcano and the ensuing eruption, in total there were 47 people on the island, 22 of them died, most of the survivors needed a long and difficult treatment for serious burns – with skin grafts and other operations. Now these tourists testify what they had to endure.
“I booked a tour to the island with my mother after reading about it in a tourist brochure. And no one warned us until we ended up on an island that the volcano was not only active, it was also on the “second level,” said tourist Annie Lu from Australia. All tourists were warned about, according to her, was to take closed shoes and clothes. They were also given helmets and gas masks.
“But in general we thought it would be a regular day off. And then my mother saw a black cloud in the sky, we heard a terrible rumble and someone shouting: “Run!” A gust of wind blew my helmet off as I dove for cover behind a rock and pressed my gas mask to my mouth. Then the horror began. Sand and stones were everywhere, they seemed to be thrown at me – and they all burned. I have never felt such hellish pain – as if someone had heated billions of needles and plunged them into me. Imagine opening the oven and the heat just rushing towards you. It's similar, but 1000 times worse,” says the tourist. At the same time, according to her, there was no clear rescue plan – everyone exclusively instinctively ran to the pier. She was one of those who managed to get to the boat – where medical care was very limited, and the water ran out when people tried to wash away the ashes.
As a result, the tourist received burns of 38% of her body, which required several skin grafts. “The eruption changed me both physically and mentally,” said the tourist, who also had to go through a “complete career change” as she worked in the fashion industry.
The testimonies of American tourists Matthew and Lauren Urey, who booked a tour to the island through Royal Caribbean Cruises on their honeymoon, speak of a similar horror. “When we went on the tour, the tourists were told that the activity level of the volcano was high, which meant that they could not visit some areas of the island. During the trip in a small boat to the island, the sea was very rough and many of the passengers got seasick. Also they said that we will have respirators for our comfort. That's all I remember, they talked about the island while we were on the boat,” said the tourist. He ended up in the group that the guides led to the edge of the crater, where they spent about 10 minutes.
“Then we slowly walked back – and at some point someone shouted: “Look” – I looked around and saw a very large black cloud coming out of the volcano. And then we were told to run,” Matthew added. At first it seemed to him that the cloud was moving silently – and only when the tourist and his wife hid behind a rock, they heard an unbearable roar and terrible screams. “We couldn’t breathe, we were enveloped in waves of terrible heat, I don’t know if it was steam or hot ash, but it was everywhere,” Matthew added. They were lucky to survive in this infernal furnace and get to a small inflatable boat – where the “less injured” people jumped in a panic, pushing everyone, they add. As a result, tourists also had to endure several operations and skin grafts.
Six parties are accused at the trial. These include the three brothers who own the island, Andrew, Peter and James Battle and their company Whakaari Management Ltd (WML), as well as ID Tours New Zealand Ltd and Tauranga Tourism Services Ltd. As WorkSafe prosecutor Christy McDonald KC said, tourists “did not receive health and safety information prior to the start of the tour” and the company failed in its duty to assist tourists visiting the island. “However, by 2019, WML was making an annual profit of around NZ$1 million ($640,000) from tourism on the island, but not enough was spent on securing the facilities. WML had a duty to understand the risks of what it was doing,” the prosecutor said. The company denies the allegations.
By the way, five more organizations have already pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing, including Volcanis Air Safaris, Aerius, Kahu NZ and White Island Tours. Luxury charter operator Inflite also pleaded guilty last year and was fined NZ$227,500 ($145,000) plus legal fees. In total, charges carry a maximum fine of NZ$1.5 million (US$950,000).
For those who care about a healthy lifestyle, we recommend reading: Found the Key to Healthy Weight Management.