Survivors, family members and first responders have filled a New Zealand marae for a remembrance service, as the country commemorates the one-year anniversary of the deadly Whakaari White Island eruption.
White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano, lies 48km offshore from Whakatane, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
There were 47 people sightseeing on the privately owned island when the volcano erupted on December 9 last year.
Twenty-two people were killed, including 17 Australians, and a further 25 were injured.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern paid tribute to the community of Whakatane and thanked those that “flew directly into danger” to help those on the island.
“In a nation that had experienced so much loss and pain in recent times, 9 December 2019 was devastating.”
The “extraordinarily challenging event” impacted everyone personally and deeply, Ms Ardern said.
“The impacts of this eruption were felt here on our shores … but it was also felt acutely abroad too. Most of those on the island that day were visitors.”
Those on this island included visitors from Australia, United States, Germany, Britain, China and Malaysia.
“We share in your sorrow and Aotearoa [New Zealand] will always be connected to you,” Ms Ardern said.
She had a special message for family members and friends who were unable to travel to New Zealand for the service.
“You are forever linked to this place and our nation,” Ms Ardern said.
Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy said the eruption was a “dark day” in New Zealand’s history.
She thanked Ngati Awa for being “a house of refuge” for victims and their families and paid tribute to the first responders, as well as the wider community.
“To the families of the 22 people who lost their lives as a result of the Whakaari eruption, I extend my deepest condolences on behalf of all New Zealanders.”
The body of New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman has never been recovered from the island.
His mother Avey Woods told those gathered that the “firsts” were the hardest.
“Then comes the second year and you’re still going to have to go through those same dates.”
She thanked an unknown woman who comforted her on the beach after the eruption.
“It shows the kind of community we have here.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne thanked the Ngati Awa community for hosting the remembrance event.
“Australia remains deeply grateful for New Zealand’s assistance to Australians affected by this disaster,” Senator Payne said in a statement.
She also expressed “sincere gratitude to the hard-working medical personnel at Hutt Hospital in Wellington and Middlemore Hospital in Auckland.”
A private dawn service for families was held by local Maori tribe Ngati Awa in Whakatane earlier on Wednesday.
The national event was screened live on television and included video messages from families and survivors from around the globe.
Ngati Awa planned to host a larger and more inclusive event once international borders re-opened.