THE GLASS HALF-FULL
The death of six on Whakaari/White Island, with another eight missing, presumably also killed, and others seriously injured, is shocking and sad. Families suffering the sudden loss of their loved ones in extremely brutal circumstances, with many far from home.
Again our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern steps up to show her humanity. I'm grateful for her personal touch both in comforting those who are grieving in New Zealand and around the world, and for acknowledging those emergency responders and local heroes. This is genuine leadership.
I have never been to Whakaari/White Island but I have been to Big Island on Hawaii. I've been a tourist walking near red hot lava flows, oohing and aahing at the power of nature. It was amazing seeing the molten streams of rock moving under a hard black shell, falling into the sea. So I understand the attraction.
Our whole country is filled with geothermal wonders. Our nickname is literally "the shakey isles". We are two tectonic plates colliding together – earthquakes, volcanoes, mud pools and thermal waters on beaches.
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And that's without getting into our hazardous outdoors, whether the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Mount Taranaki, the Ruahine Ranges, or even our backyard of Mangapurua, the bridge to nowhere. It is a place where people sometimes die – sometimes because they are unprepared, sometimes because they make a simple bad decision, or sometimes because they are unlucky.
Questions have already been asked about whether those tourists knew and really understood the risks they were facing with Whakaari/White Island being at alert level two.
Or whether the tourism operators should have not given them the choice and instead voluntarily closed up shop while the island remained at that level. I'm sure investigation reports will dig much deeper into these considerations and others.
As a former Department of Conservation manager at Ruapehu, I can relate, at least to a limited extent. I was the operational manager when the crater lake dam collapsed in 2007 and a lahar flowed down the mountain.
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After much concern over whether the warning system would work or whether there should have been a physical intervention at the top of the mountain for a controlled release, the actual event was a bit of a non-event. Everything went to plan – limited damage and no death or injury.
But the lahar from Ruapehu that rushed down the flooded Whangaehu River and took out the Tangiwai bridge on Christmas Eve 1953 was different – 151 people were killed with eight of those bodies never identified, buried at a Karori cemetery memorial in Wellington.
My heart goes out to those hurting from this latest disaster – I don't think anyone could really have believed they had a serious chance of dying when they jumped at an adventure on an active volcano.
I don't know what I would have done as either the Whakaari/White Island local manager or as a tourist deciding whether to visit that day. We take risks all the time, even simply getting in our cars to drive – 377 people died on New Zealand roads last year, a major cause of preventable death.
Another devastating series of preventable deaths is 70 people dying from measles in Samoa since October, 61 of them babies and children under 4.
These tragic losses of lives, combined with the surreal scenes of smoke and massive flames from New South Wales, is setting a different atmosphere heading into Christmas this year.
It does help remind us what's important – and it's not how much you spend on Christmas presents for your loved ones. Find a way to be present and to be patient.
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Take a little time for yourself. Let someone merge ahead of you in the traffic. Say thank you to a busy retail worker. Donate to a charity helping distribute vaccinations in Samoa. Spend some time sitting watching the river flow past or the clouds move across the sky on a sunny day. And definitely drive carefully. I wish you a safe and happy holiday season.
• Nicola Patrick is a councillor at Horizons Regional Council, leads Thrive Whanganui, a social enterprise hub, is a Green Party member and has a science degree. A mum of two boys, this fortnightly column is her personal opinion.