‘Share the love’: Whakatāne community on healing after Whakaari eruption

Spread the love

A Whakatāne local says the town will never forget the Whakaari /White Island eruption, but the community is looking for the positives following the tragedy.

A local man places flowers from his garden on the Whakatāne boat ramp cordon.

A local places flowers from his garden on the Whakatāne boat ramp cordon after the eruption in 2019. (File photo). Photo: RNZ / Murphy

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the eruption.

About 100 people, mainly victims’ families, have gathered for a dawn service at Whakatāne Heads this morning.

This will be followed by a service at Mataatua Marae and a public ceremony later today.

Taylor Ulufonua owns Cafe 4 U, a popular eatery that provided food on the house for first responders around the time of the eruption.

He said it would take a long time for the town to heal, but the already close-knit community had become even more unified in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“Obviously it’s been a hard year for everyone. [The eruption] has hurt the town a lot and it is going to take a long time for the town to just let that go and get on as per normal.”

He tried to look for a silver lining.

“I suppose a positive I think to take out of [it] is the ones who have healed, who have come out of it and healed quite well.”

This included tour guides Kelsey Waghorn and Jake Milbank, who were seriously injured in the eruption.

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“I see them in the paper and that is so good, it almost brings a tear to your eye when you see them coming out of what they went through, on a higher end. It’s encouraging and encouraged each and every one of us.”

He said the town would never forget the eruption, but he believed it had brought the community closer together.

“Us coming together because of a tragedy [and] taking the good out of a tragedy. I think it’s a positive thing going forward [and] you have to take the positive out of it.

“You just got to share the love.”

Minister for the National Emergency Management Agency Kiritapu Allan had just landed in Wellington from Whakatāne when the eruption happened, and took the first flight back.

The East Coast MP told Morning Report it was an emotional day to remember.

“The orange and brown plume that [stirred] out of Whakaari is something I know many of us from the Mataatua region will never forget, it is etched into our collective and regional memory.

“So today at the forefront of all our minds [will be] those who lost somebody they loved, those that were the first responders that saw things they never could’ve imagined they would have to, those from Ngāti Awa in particular that opened up their arms for not just days but weeks to those that came in from all over the world to collect, mourn, and grieve for their loved ones that were lost that day.”

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Allan said the tragedy would shape the region for generations to come.

“It’s a part of our region’s story and our region’s history now.

“Some people today will be having a good old laugh remembering one of their loved ones, remembering their laugh, stories or smile. Others will mourn and grieve in different ways.

“Some of the younger people I know that had to go in, dropped tools, ran down to the scene and did everything in possible that they could’ve, and have been incredibly traumatised by that event.”

The National Emergency Management Agency is among the 13 parties facing charges laid by WorkSafe in relation to the eruption. Allan said this was an important process for all.

“As an agency we have our own checks and balances, and we’ve undertaken an assessment of that incident and we are always looking to learn from all national emergencies as to how things could go better. I think across the board this is a time for reflection, it’s a time to, I guess, lean in to the process we have ahead of us.”

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