Newlywed’s harrowing volcano voicemail
They were celebrating the happiest time of their lives while on honeymoon in New Zealand.
But the relatives of Matthew and Lauren Urey, who had enjoyed their wedding just two months before the White Island volcanic eruption, say they received a harrowing voicemail message as the pair desperately tried to escape.
Barbara Barham, Lauren's mother, told The Washington Post that her daughter Lauren and husband Matthew had travelled from Richmond, Virginia to visit the live volcano on the private island as part of the Ovation of the Seas cruise.
Ms Barham said Matthew's mother had received a distressing message from her son, who said there had been a volcanic eruption and "they were burned very bad".
"He said he would try to call as soon as he could, but talking and making phone calls was difficult," Mr Barham said of the voicemail.
"His hands were so badly burned it was hard for him to make a phone call."
Sometime after Matthew's call, Royal Caribbean reached out to Ms Barham asking if she had heard from the pair. However, she told the cruise ship that they were taken to a hospital but had not heard from them since.
"Obviously, I'm panicking," Ms Barham said. "I don't know how to act. I feel like I should be crying, but I can't even cry."
Ms Barham said she was furious tours were allowed to the island, given experts had reported increased volcanic activity on the island weeks before the eruption.
"I'm just livid," she said. "There's been warnings about it … My son-in-law never would have booked the excursion if he knew there was any chance of them being injured."
According to the New Zealand Herald, a hospital representative later called Ms Barham while Lauren was in surgery, advising the distressed mother that her daughter has severe burns on her lower extremities, covering at least 20 per cent of her body.
While she recovers at an Auckland hospital, her husband Matthew was flown to a hospital in Christchurch for treatment of burns that cover about 80 per cent of his body.
Following the eruption at White Island, questions are now being asked over why tourists were allowed to visit when alerts level had recently been elevated.
It's believed many tourists on the island on Monday were from a cruise ship, Ovation of the Seas.
Under the GeoNet-managed NZ Volcanic Alert Level system, ranging from zero to five, the volcano had recently been rated level 2, indicating "moderate to heightened volcanic unrest".
That had been raised in response to increasing amounts of sulphur dioxide gas, along with volcanic tremors - both of which can signal rising magma deep in the volcano, the NZ Herald reports.
Around 10,000 tourists visit the volcano - New Zealand's most active - each year.
Despite that, alert levels change on a relatively frequent basis - and one volcanologist said sudden unheralded eruptions from volcanoes such as White Island could be expected at any time.
While the island was generally open and exposed, a shipping container had been placed on the island in 2016 to act as an emergency shelter in case of an eruption.
Today, GNS Science said there remained "significant uncertainty" as to future changes, but currently, there were no signs of escalation.