We are shocked and saddened to hear that people have lost their lives in an eruption on our local volcano, Whakaari, White Island in the Bay of Plenty. Of the 47 people who were on the island at the time of the eruption, 31 are in hospital, 5 have died and 8 are missing, presumed deceased and still on the island. Eruptions are ongoing and it isn’t safe for rescuers to land however flyovers have detected no sign of life.
This tragic event will have a huge impact on our region. Whakatane is a small district with a population of about 35,000. The marine environment is our backyard and the community of tour companies, fishing and charter operators is small and close. Losses will be felt deeply.
Whakaari has always been part of the seascape, sitting at the edge of the bay like a sentry or maybe to offer welcome. Visitors come from all over the world to walk on the island, it is the biggest tourist draw card in the town. It always seems to belch some smoke or steam and occasionally blows a big cloud. Never have we imagined such a tragedy would take place.
Whakaari, White Island lies 49 kilometers off the Whakatane coast in the Bay of Plenty. As one of the world’s most accessible active volcanos, for over 30 years it has been our most popular tourist attraction. Sulphur has stained the rock surface vivid hues of yellow and orange. Visitors are guided around roaring steam vents, bubbling mud pits, hot volcanic streams and a lake of steaming acid. There are also the remains of a sulphur mining factory which was abandoned in the 1930s.
I have never visited the island, thrill seeking is not in my nature, but my eldest grand daughter spent a season fresh out of school as a guide. As do many local youngsters. I fear we have much more bad news to come.
Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones and who have suffered life changing injuries. For many, a trip of a life time has ended in the most devastating way. We send our love and compassion to you all. Arohanui!