The Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand

Megha Parikh ‘21

Last Monday, December 9th, New Zealand faced a natural disaster: a volcanic eruption from the volcano Whakaari on the North Island that resulted in numerous casualties and injuries. Life-changing events like this eruption have shaped New Zealand into the country it is today.


The concept of volcanic eruptions is not new to New Zealand. Mount Tarawera’s eruption in 1886, killed 120 people and wiped villages off the face of the planet [1]. In 1953, lahar, mudflow from volcanoes, caused a train to crash into the Whangaehu River, killing 151 people [2]. Not all of New Zealand’s encounters resulted in casualties, however. Eruptions at Mount Tongariro and Ruapegu, also located on the North Island, also occurred in recent years, but left citizens unharmed.


[3] Unfortunately, this past eruption left about 30 people severely burned, and 8 missing. After thorough investigation, the New Zealand police were able to find out and release information regarding the victims. 47 people were on the island when the eruption took place. 18 people lost their lives, with  were 6 confirmed deaths in the first 24 hours of the eruption. 2 are missing, presumed to be dead. 22 were in critical condition, 20 now in intensive care, with few passing away during treatment. The youngest victim was 13; the oldest was 53. 


[4] Extensive procedures to heal the 20 victims require 1,300 of skin for skin grafts. Surgeons are buying skin to perform a procedure to help the severe burns. While skin transplants are difficult, they are extremely necessary to heal these victims. New Zealand itself does not have the amount of human skin needed to treat all of the injuries and has reached out to the leading producers of organ donors: the United States, where many victims came from.


Volcanologist Robin Andrews explains the unpredictability of these very prevalent volcanoes and their consequences that may follow because of having so many volcanoes in such close proximity of each other [1]. The future of North Island and surrounding areas may include future eruptions, keeping scientists on their feet about what to expect.