Saturday, September 23

White Island Anniversary Goes Smoothly, With Healing – And Reckoning – Far From Over | Isla Blanca volcano

OROn a pristine day two years ago, a group of mostly international hikers boarded and headed to Whakaari / White Island, a small active volcano and popular tourist destination 30 miles off New Zealand’s east coast. Guests wandered the lunar landscape, gazing at the strangeness of a bubbling, living rock. But below the surface, the pressure was mounting.

At 2.11 pm, while 47 people were on the island, the volcano erupted, spewing a cloud of steam, gases, rocks and ash into the air. The eruption killed 22 people, seriously injured 25 and changed the lives of many families forever. It became the country’s deadliest volcanic disaster since Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886.

“People saw things that day that no one should see and they take those memories and that trauma with them,” says East Coast MP and now emergency management minister Kiri Allan.

Allan had just flown to Wellington when he heard the news and went straight back. It remained on the ground in the Bay of Plenty for the next two weeks.

There are two memories that have remained with her. The Mataatua Marae (meeting place) in Whakatane opened its doors and was told by a person who had lost a loved one that they had no idea what was being said in the house, but that they felt safe while crying. The second was meeting the brother of a young man who had passed away and getting closer to that family.

“We all have those memories of Eastern Bay,” says Allan. “Everyone has a clear memory of where they were and what happened in the course of the following week.”

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Two years later, Allan says that Covid-19 travel restrictions and outages have meant the community has yet to properly grieve. “Things are not finalized during that period of time for us, and there are a variety of other processes that are at play right now.”

There has not yet been an opportunity to adequately embrace the families of guests abroad who were affected by the tragedy, except in its immediate aftermath. “I know the time will come and as a community we will be ready.”

The second anniversary is passing more quietly than the previous one, with no official ceremony, as the country grapples with a Covid outbreak and a court case looms that will look at the run-up to the eruption.

The local iwi (tribe) Te Rūnanga or Ngāti Awa and White Island Tours staff will meet privately to remember the victims, and at 2.11pm. M. They will observe a minute of silence.

“We will always remember the people who lost their lives that day and continue to pray for those who lost loved ones,” says Ngāti Awa President Joe Harawira.

“Our thoughts are also with the survivors, here in Aotearoa and abroad and we hope they are healing physically and spiritually. We join them in their pain ”.

Among those who lost their lives are White Island Tours guides Hayden Marshall-Inman and Tipene Maangi. Kelsey Waghorn and Jake Milbank were also guiding visitors to the island that day. They survived the eruption and guided many people to safety despite their own serious injuries.

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Whakaari is regularly visited by the public on guided tours. Most of the victims were passengers on the visiting cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, and included tourists from Australia, Germany, China, Malaysia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

In November last year, WorkSafe announced that it was filing charges against 13 organizations and individuals for alleged workplace safety and health violations related to tourism operations on the island. All the accused have pleaded not guilty. It’s an unusual case for New Zealand, marking the first time a scientific agency has been charged under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 2015, which generally applies to workplaces such as factories. The trial is scheduled to take place in 2023.

The defendants were: the owner of the island, Whakaari Management Limited, and its directors, Andrew, James and Peter Buttle; GNS Science; the National Emergency Management Agency; White Island Tours Limited; Volcanic Air Safaris Limited; Aerius Limited; Kahu NZ Limited; Inflite Charters Limited; ID Tours New Zealand Limited; and Tauranga Tourism Services Limited.

The charges are not related to what happened on the day of the eruption or to rescue efforts. But the pending court case has drawn the ire of some in the community, who last year petitioned Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to intervene in the charges against Mark Law of Kahu NZ Limited, a pilot who risked his life to rescue a 12 tourists.

An independent inform WorkSafe published by the government last October found that WorkSafe also “did not comply with good practices” in its regulation of activities at Whakaari during the 2014-19 period, including the failure to adequately audit the operators of adventure activities.

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Dr. Simon Connell, who investigates accidents and the law, told RNZ There is a potential conflict of interest for WorkSafe, both as a regulator and as a tax.

“In the sense that there is an incentive for WorkSafe to point the finger elsewhere and build a strong case that the blame and responsibility lie elsewhere.”

He said it was clear that something had gone seriously wrong at WorkSafe if its audit of an active volcano adventure activity did not take into account the risks posed by an active volcano itself. “That is not a subtle, technical or legal nuance. That is a serious problem, serious in terms of mentality. “

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