White Island eruption: Victim's mother 'livid' tour allowed to go ahead

The mother of an American woman who suffered severe burns in the White Island eruption says she is 'livid' tourists were allowed on the island. 

Barbara Barham's daughter, Lauren Urey, was among those injured when the volcano exploded on Monday afternoon. Urey, along with her husband Matthew, had been on the island as part of an excursion from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

The newlyweds were on their honeymoon at the time.

Dozens of tourists from the cruise ship were on or near the island when it erupted.

Barham told The Washington Post she found out about the eruption from a late-night phone call from the cruise ship company, Royal Carribean. The company asked if Barham had heard from Urey, as she hadn't returned to the boat after leaving for a tour of the volcano.

Shortly after, Barham said, she received a phone call from Matthew's mother, who had received a voice mail from her son.

"Her son called and said that they had been on the excursion and there had been a volcano eruption and they were burned very bad," Barham told The Washington Post. "He said he would try to call as soon as he could, but talking and making phone calls was difficult. His hands were so badly burned, it was hard for him to make a phone call."

Barham said she was "panicking" after hearing the news.

"I feel like I should be crying, but I can't even cry."

She later heard from Auckland Hospital that her daughter had burns covering 20 percent of her body and was recovering after surgery. Matthew had burns on 80 percent of his body and had been airlifted to a hospital in Christchurch.

Barham told The Washington Post she was "just livid" tourists were allowed on White Island.

Although the newlyweds were aware the volcano was active, they didn't think it was dangerous.

"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."

Kevin O'Sullivan, the chief executive officer of the New Zealand Cruise Association, expressed  "heartfelt concern to the passengers and their families" in a statement following the incident. 

Other passengers on the cruise ship described the mood onboard after the tragedy as "sombre".

Donna Field and John Taylor, ABC journalists who were on vacation on the ship, said "a magic holiday had been cut short by shock and grief".

"Families and young people were having the time of their lives, making memories," Field wrote on RNZ. "It's never meant to end like this."

She said she felt for those working on the ship and the "weight of responsibility" on them would be immense.

"Imagine having to call the family of the crew who are missing. Or knock on a cabin door to deliver the grim news to those who didn't join the tour," Field wrote.

Speaking on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there would "absolutely" be an inquiry into the tragedy, but the focus was currently on recovering those still on the island.

"Questions will need to be answered, obviously," Ardern said.

Five people have been confirmed dead in the tragedy so far, with eight people still missing and believed to be dead.