Sydney, Australia, Dec 9 (efe-epa).- New Zealand on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption that killed 22 people.
At dawn, about 100 people gathered in Whakatane, the closest mainland town to the island, to pay tribute to the victims in an intimate ceremony facilitated by local Maori tribe Ngati Awa.
On the sea shore facing out to Whakaari, karakia (prayers) were held and songs were sung, according to Radio New Zealand.
Later, an event was held at Mataatua Marae (traditional meeting house), during which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recalled the “devastating” disaster, and thanked those who assisted in the rescue and in the medical care of those injured.
Also speaking were Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy, Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner, and Avey Woods, the mother of Hayden Marshall-Inman, one of the two missing victims.
Recorded messages from affected families overseas, as well as organizations such as civil defense and the police, were also played.
At 2.11 pm, the exact time the volcano’s crater blew one year ago, a minute of silence was held.
Due to Covid-19, some traditional elements of the ceremony were not performed, and seating was socially distanced.
At Whakatane Heads, first responders gathered to launch wreaths into the sea, according to Stuff news website.
On Dec. 9, 2019, Whakaari erupted without apparent warning while 47 tourists and workers were on the island, including 24 Australians, nine Americans, five New Zealanders, four Germans, two Chinese, two Britons and one Malaysian.
Nearly all survivors suffered severe or critical injuries.
In Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne recalled the 22 who died, including 17 Australians.
“We join our New Zealand friends to remember those who died in the eruption, those who experienced severe and long-term injuries, and the families and loved ones touched by this tragedy,” she said in a statement.
“I would like to thank the Ngati Awa, the local Maori community, for hosting a remembrance event in Whakatane,” she added.
“Together with many others in Australia and New Zealand, my colleagues and I across the Australian Government honour the memory of those who were lost in the disaster, and reflect on the resilience of those who survived and of their families.”
The 321-meter-high stratovolcano, 70 percent of which is below sea level, is one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes, and a popular tourist attraction. It erupted while it was in a Volcanic Alert Level 2 (of a scale of 5) which anticipated slight volcanic activity. On Monday, it was lowered again to Level 1.
On Nov. 30, New Zealand’s workplace health and safety regulator filed charges against 10 organizations – some of them governmental – and three individuals, in connection with the tragedy. The first hearing will take place on Dec. 15 in Auckland District Court. EFE-EPA