Jacinda Ardern has said the overseas visitors among 22 people killed in the White Island/Whakaari volcano eruption will be forever in the hearts of New Zealanders as the nation marked a year since the disaster.
Victims’ families, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a minute’s silence on Wednesday at 2.11pm – the time the volcano erupted – in Whakatāne not far from White Island, which lies just offshore.
Afterwards the prime minister said: “I say to those who have lost and grieve, you are forever linked to this place and our nation and we will continue to hold you close. Haere haere atu ra [rest in peace].”
'We are lost without you': White Island volcano victims remembered, one year on
The governor general, Dame Patsy Reddy, said: “The ninth of December is a dark day in our nation’s history.”
The anniversary comes amid legal battles over responsibility for the disaster. The workplace safety watchdog has laid charges against 13 parties including the island’s owners, the government agency that monitors geological hazards, the National Emergency Management Agency and tour operators.
The volcano erupted in December 2019 while 47 people were on the island: the 22 victims – comprising 20 foreign tourists and two local tour guides – were from Australia, the US, New Zealand and Germany. Several survivors are still undergoing treatment for their injuries.
Meredith Dallow, the twin sister of Australian victim Gavin Dallow, said: “I’ll be glad when today will be over. It will be the last of the firsts, you know. The first year there was the first birthday, the first mother’s day, the first father’s day.
“You think about the things that Gavin will miss out on in the future and what we aren’t going to have him a part of … it’s been hard,” said Meredith Dallow, who watched the ceremony from her home in Adelaide, surrounded by relatives. Gavin’s 15-year-old stepdaughter, Zoe Hosking, also died in the disaster. His wife, Lisa Dallow, survived but suffered serious injuries and has spent months recovering.