June 23, 2024

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“It’s like an oven but a thousand times worse”

“It’s like an oven but a thousand times worse”

(CNN) — Survivors of one of New Zealand’s worst natural disasters have described the pain of being hit by sand, ash and burning rocks during the 2019 volcanic eruption on Wakkari, or White Island, that killed 22 people.

Their accounts were heard this week during a criminal investigation brought by WorkSafe, the country’s health and safety regulator. Against six partiesIncluding three brothers who own the island, once a popular tourist destination, 30 miles north of New Zealand.

Forty seven people They were on Whakari, the island’s traditional Maori name, at the time of the explosion, including newly married couples and some families, who were either killed or badly burned in the incident.

Via video link from Australia, tourist Annie Lu said in court Thursday that after reading about it in a brochure with her mother, they were not warned until they were on the island that the volcano was “stage two”.

“There was no mention of dangerous things,” he said.



According to the organization Level 6 volcano alert for New ZealandLevel two means “moderate to high volcanic disturbances” with potential for eruption.

Tourists were equipped with helmets and gas masks, but were told not to wear or bring anything other than closed shoes and clothes, Lu said.

“Basically the impression we were given was that it was just a normal day,” Lu said.

But what transpired was a horrific ordeal that left Lu with burns to 38% of his body, requiring multiple skin grafts, to the only parts of his body that were not burned.

White Island Volcano

Tourists on the island said they had no idea how close the volcano was to eruption. (Credit: Courtesy of Jeff Hopkins)

“I was on fire.”

On the day of the blast, Lu said her mother noticed a black cloud in the sky and then they heard someone yelling, “Everybody run.”

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Video played in court showed a group of tourists being dwarfed as they were led by tour guides from the pier where the boat was docked to the crater.

Lu’s first gust blew his helmet off, and he kept his gas mask in his mouth as he dove for cover behind a rock formation.

What happened next caused waves of almost indescribable pain, Lu said.

“It was like sand and rocks were being thrown at me everywhere. Did it hurt you? It really hurt,” he said. It was like blowing.

“Imagine if you open an oven and the heat rushes towards you. Something like this, but a thousand times worse,” he said.



The court heard a recorded interview Le gave to police months after the disaster, and on Thursday was asked to add more details about the aftermath of the explosion.

“There were no clear instructions or plans, everyone followed the fight or flight instinct and ran straight for the jetty,” he said.

Lu said he stepped into the water to prevent his shoes from melting into his flesh. He added that medical care on board was “very limited” and water supplies ran out as people tried to wash ash off their skin.

Lu told the court that the rash had changed her “physically and mentally”.

Before the disaster, she worked in the fashion industry. After that, he had to take time to recover and could not return. “I had a complete career change because, you know, as hard as it sounds, the fashion industry is all about looks,” she said.

A silent dark cloud

Earlier, the court heard testimony from American tourists Matthew and Lauren Urey, who were on their honeymoon and booked a trip to the island with Royal Caribbean Cruises.

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Matthew Ure said the sea was very rough during the small boat trip and several passengers drowned. He said that tourists were told that the volcano’s activity level was high and that they could not visit some parts of the island.

“They mentioned that there would be breathing apparatus for our convenience. “I remember them telling us about the island when we were on the boat,” he said. “They may have given us some other information, but I don’t remember anything specific.”

On the island, Urey said guides took his group to the edge of the crater, where they spent about 10 minutes before slowly making their way back.

I remember someone yelling ‘look’ and I looked up and saw a huge black cloud coming out of the volcano. That’s when they asked us to run,” he said.

Lauren Urey said in her testimony that the black cloud was silent, but as she and her husband hid behind a rock, they heard a “loud roar” as the volcano erupted, followed by “screams of help and agony.”

Mathew Ure said he struggled to breathe as he was surrounded by heat waves of 100 degrees Celsius or more.

“I don’t know if it was steam or hot ash, but it was on us,” he said.

When the sky cleared, the survivors made their way through the thick layer of ash and reached a small inflatable boat moored on the pier.

“Some weren’t hurt as badly as others, so some were able to get into the boat more easily than others. (Some) jumped on him and pushed the others away,” said Lauren Urey.

Since then, the couple has undergone several surgeries and skin grafts.

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“We wanted to have two kids, but now if I decide to have kids I’m at a higher risk,” said Lauren Urey. “So this has affected me, my husband and our families beyond our physical injuries,” she told the court.

Wounded White Island volcano

Images of Matthew Urey’s injuries during the Vaccari/White Island explosion. (Credit: Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina and Winkleman PA)

Prosecution of cases against tourism companies

The six parties fighting the charges include three brothers, Andrew, Peter and James Buttle, who own the island and their companies Vaccari Management Ltd and IT Tours New Zealand Ltd and Tauranga Tourism Services Ltd.

WorkSafe lawyer Christy MacDonald told the KC court that cruise passengers “did not receive health and safety information before embarking on the tour” and that WML had failed in its duty to tourists visiting the island.

By 2019, WML was generating about NZ$1 million ($640,000) in annual profits from tourism to the island, but not enough was being spent to ensure the facilities were safe.

“WML was forced to understand the risks of what it was doing. “He never bothered to understand the risks properly,” he said.

Buttle brothers and WML deny the allegations. In another court hearing seeking dismissal of the charges, Buttles’ attorney is David NeutzeAccording to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand, the brothers said they had little control over the tours.

Five organizations, including Volcanis Air Safaris, Aerius, Kahu NZ and White Island Tours, have already pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

New Zealand’s science agency GNS admitted one charge of failing to consult helicopter pilots about the risks, and another charge was dismissed.

Luxury charter operator Inflite pleaded guilty last year and was fined NZ$227,500 ($145,000) plus court costs. These charges carry a maximum fine of 1.5 million New Zealand dollars (US$950,000).

The trial is expected to last 16 weeks.