A relative of two Americans who died following December’s White Island eruption has criticised safety measures employed by the tour operators who hosted the trip.
Vick Singh, the nephew of American couple Pratap ‘Paul’ Singh and Mayuri ‘Mary’ Singh, travelled to NZ following the tragedy to care for his loved ones.
Mary died on 22 December and Paul died on 28 January. Both were treated at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital for severe burns, with Paul undergoing multiple surgeries and skin graphs during his fight for survival.
On Thursday night Vick Singh released a statement saying he was devastated at their deaths and said White Island Tours failed to provide lifesaving safety equipment.
“I visited Paul and Mary every day since December 10 while they were at the Middlemore hospital,” he said. “The last 50 days were distressing, slow and agonisingly painful.
“Proper safety equipment would have saved my family.
“I seriously request and encourage volcano tourism in NZ and around the world to charter proper safety equipment including appropriate heat resistant gear/clothing, safety glasses, helmets and face masks.
“Tours should not be operated without comprehensive disclosure of risks associated, and a complete assessment of geothermal and seismic activity.”
Concerns have been voiced in the days since the eruption about whether tourists should be allowed at all on an active stratovolcano labelled Te Puia o Whakaari or “the dramatic volcano” in Māori.
“White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years,” Monash University volcanologist Raymond Cas told CNN in the wake of the tragedy.
“I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter.”
The eruption has so far claimed the lives of 21 people, with others remaining in hospital suffering life-threatening burns. It is the subject of two inquiries: a coronial investigation and another by industry watchdog WorkSafe New Zealand.
While scientists have confirmed there were no indications that the volcano was going to erupt, despite volcanic activity being detected in the weeks prior to the incident, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has said “questions must be asked and they must be answered” over the event. She has not ruled out a Royal Commission into the tragedy.
According to Associated Press, the Singhs were visiting White Island from Atlanta, Georgia, where they were well known in the city’s Indian community. They are survived by twin six-year-old daughters and an 11-year-old son.
Vick Singh described his uncle as an “invincible businessman” and Mary as “a true supermom”.
“His unmatched exuberance and unconditional love for everyone around him will forever be missed,” he said of Paul Singh.
“He was the best father, best guardian, best brother, best uncle, best volunteer and the best friend anyone could wish.”
While critical of the New Zealand’s safety measures, Vick Singh did pay tribute to the hospital staff who cared for his relatives.
“We would like to commend and acknowledge the doctors/consultants, nurses and the administrative staff of Middlemore hospital for their efforts in providing best medical attention and care possible in New Zealand,” he said.
And he acknowledged the suffering of others affected by the 9 December eruption, saying: “We offer our sincere condolences and do share the pain and sorrow of the families who have lost their loved ones in this tragic incident.”