Whakaari/White Island eruption: Moving dawn service marks anniversary

A moving dawn service has been held in Whakatāne to mark one year since the town was rocked by tragedy. 

Whakaari/White Island erupted at 2:11pm on December 9, 2019, killing 22 people and injuring dozens. Two local tour guides were among the dead, with the body of Hayden Marshall-Inman washed out to sea. 

An eerie silence draped over the town on Wednesday as it marked the disaster, with iwi Ngāti Awa leading a karakia.

The sea was rough and mist blanketed Whakaari, but around 100 people turned out to pay their respects and honour those affected. 

Ngāti Awa chairman Joe Harawira says the iwi felt a responsibility to act, as mana whenua. 

"December 9, 2019 is now part of our history and that fateful day embedded in our minds and in our hearts," he said.

Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner says the day is raw and she doubts this will ever change - it's something which will stay within her for some time. 

"Nothing we do or say will counter the devastation and loss that survivors and families that lost loved ones have had to live with every day."

There has also been praise for medical staff who worked tirelessly around the clock, treating those injured in the eruption.

"Those teams did the work of caring for some of the sickest patients I have seen in any of the seven ICUs I have worked in," said Dr Peter Thorson.

His thoughts were echoed by emergency clinical nurse Bronwyn Ives.

"I've had 18 years experience as an emergency nurse, and what I saw that day [was] the most tense, traumatic and horrific I have ever experienced."

A memorial will be held later on Wednesday, and a minute's silence will be marked across the town at the moment tragedy struck.