Cruise Passengers 'Relieved' To Be Home One Week After NZ Volcano Tragedy
As the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship returned to Sydney on Monday morning, Australians and New Zealanders affected by the White Island volcano tragedy have paused to share one minute's silence for the victims.
As the cruise ship docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal on Monday morning, passenger Pam Gunnis said she was flooded with relief.
She was tearful as she told 10 News First how the week since the volcano eruption had been "emotional for everyone".
"There were a lot of tears," she said.
"We knew people through contact on the boat who had lost their life."
As Gunnis makes her way home to Queensland, she said she wants to try to start moving on with her life. But admitted it won't be easy.
Other passengers who disembarked the ship were filled with similar grief.
"We got on as a group and we've come home with parts of our group missing," another woman told 10 News First.
You just can't help thinking about the ones who haven't come back with us.
The woman said she had "no idea" what had happened last Monday until an announcement was made to passengers that evening.
"When we got up that morning, we sat and had breakfast together ... no idea whatsoever," she said.
"My son has friends in New Zealand and they sent us a message. That was the first thing we knew until the captain briefly told us that night.
When the captain spoke, you could hear a pin drop. It was absolute silence.
But the woman said most of the information she received in the aftermath was from family and friends in New Zealand.
Many passengers who spoke to 10 News First on Monday praised the ship for their handling of the tragedy.
Gunnis said the crew were "fantastic", and that passengers were offered mental health support on board, along with information to seek further help.
But others claimed they were left in the dark.
"I've got a son that's [sic] 17 who lost two friends that he made. We didn't know how many people were missing," another man told reporters after disembarking.
A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman thanked the ship's passengers for their understanding.
"As Ovation of the Seas returns to Sydney today, our thoughts remain with those affected and we will continue to provide ongoing support and services to them and their families during this difficult time," she said in a statement.
A few hours later New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led a minute of silence from the cabinet table at 12:11pm AEST, exactly one week after the eruption.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the country's marshals to fly all flags at half-mast.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne also began a three-day visit of New Zealand, where she is expected to visit both Wellington and Whakatane.
Some 47 people, including 24 Australian citizens and four permanent residents, were on White Island when the volcano erupted.
Anthony and Kristine Langford, from Sydney, and Karla Mathews, from Coffs Harbour, are among the 16 people confirmed to have died.
The Mathews and Langford families issued statements on Monday through the Department of Foreign Affairs.
"Our family is absolutely heartbroken and our big sister will be incredibly missed," the Mathews' family statement read.
"We have an enormous sense of relief that she has finally been found and we patiently wait with the Elzer family for news of Karla's partner, Rick, so we are able to bring them home together."
The Langfords were remembered as "loving parents" to their teenagers and a "wonderful couple".
"Anthony and Kristine, loving parents to Jesse and Winona, were a wonderful couple and devoted to both their immediate and extended families," the Langford family statement read.
"They will be greatly missed by all who knew them. Winona is currently unaccounted for and Jesse is recovering in hospital, receiving excellent care."
Two bodies remain on White Island after three failed attempts to locate and recover them. They are believed to be in the waters around White Island.
Four people were confirmed dead by NZ Police on Monday: 20-year-old Jessica Richards from Brisbane, Coffs Harbour man Jason Griffiths, 33, Kristine Langford, 45, and Martin Hollander, 48, from Sydney.
These add to the seven named on Sunday: Adelaide schoolgirl Zoe Hosking, 15, her stepfather Gavin Dallow, 53, Karla Mathews, 32, and Sydney man Anthony Langford, 51.
Hollander's sons Matthew, 13, and Berend, 16, who were US citizens, were also confirmed dead.
An Australian man, whose family asked that he not be named, died in a Sydney hospital on Sunday.
Another 12 people are being treated in Australian hospitals after being repatriated with severe burns.
Ardern wrote an emotional message on Instagram reflecting on the "extraordinary tragedy".
"Lives were lost immediately, and in the days that have followed others have succumbed to their injuries. There are almost no words for the stories of both the aftermath and the loss that has followed," she wrote in the post.
"Those who have been lost are now forever linked to New Zealand, and we will hold them close."
She thanked the rescue crews, emergency services and communities who worked to support the recovery efforts and did "extraordinary things to save lives".
According to Geonet, New Zealand's geological hazard information organisation, the risk of an eruption on White Island sits between 35-40 percent.
The volcano alert is at level two, warning people of "moderate to heightened volcanic unrest".
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