Above: Geoff Hopkins, 50, and his daughter Lillani, 22; A photo seconds after the volcanic eruption. Images: Facebook / Geoff Hopkins
A New Zealand church pastor and his daughter were among those administering first aid, prayer and comfort to burns victims, after the Whakaari / White Island volcanic eruption on Monday afternoon.
Geoff Hopkins, who is a pastor at ARISE Church Hamilton, was with his 22-year-old daughter Lillani on a tour boat, which had left the volcanic island only minutes before the explosions took place.
Shortly after the lethal eruption, their tour guides turned the catamaran around, heading into the clouds of volcanic ash and back to the island, in a bid to search for survivors. When asked if they had any medical experience, Geoff and Lillani, who are both first-aid trained, volunteered to assist alongside other passengers who were doctors.
In an article for the New York Times, Geoff described sights he’ll never forget: clouds of steam and white ash that “cut out the sun” turning the daylight to dark, and covering the island so thickly that “you couldn’t see that there was an island there”. Stepping onto the island he and his daughter saw survivors who were “horrifically burned” with “skin hanging… off their faces, off their arms”.
Tending to People in Horrific Pain
Interviewed by Channel Nine’s A Current Affair, Geoff said it was heart-wrenching to see the horrific pain people were suffering, as he tended to some of the most critically burned. His aim was to keep people conscious as they took the 90-minute boat ride back to the New Zealand mainland.
“I can’t imagine the pain they were going through, and nothing you could do other than keep them warm and keep them alive,” Geoff said. “I’m not one to cry—but I’ve cried a lot in the last three days.”
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Geoff said he was praying for both the victims in front of him, and for those still on the island. As for his daughter Lillani, she was at the back of the boat, praying with people, trying to comfort them, and at times singing to them, “just to take their mind off the pain and the environment that they were in”.
“I’ve never seen people burnt that bad; I’ve never seen people scream in so much pain.” ~ Lillani Hopkins
Lillani told ACA that although it was her first instinct to rescue and help out, nothing prepared her for the extent of trauma she saw.
“I thought it would be eye wash, a few burns but nothing major,” she said. “I walked out and I’d never seen anything like it… I was just helping any way that I could. We were dressing peoples’ wounds, stopping bleeding from head injuries, clearing peoples’ airways, clearing their eyes from ash so they could see.
“I’ve never seen people burnt that bad; I’ve never seen people scream in so much pain.”
In all, Geoff and Lillani helped the boat’s crew and other passengers in bringing 23 survivors including several Australians, back to the mainland. There they were taken to Waikato Hospital, where many are still fighting for their lives.
A 50th Birthday Present and a Chance to Explore Geology
The trip the Hopkinses were on was a birthday present for Geoff’s 50th; while for Lillani, it was a chance to explore her passion for geology. As it happens, she’s studying the subject, with dreams of becoming a volcanologist. But while she said the tragedy hasn’t deterred her from her fascination with Planet Earth, she admits her near escape was too close for comfort.
“I’ve never seen so much tragedy and so much disaster in one small space – and it changed in a split second,” she said. “If it was minutes before, I would’ve been on the island… and probably 30 minutes earlier, I would have stood on the edge of the crater.”
Lillani said she’d only had about three hours’ sleep in the space of two days, haunted by the traumatic experience: “Every time I close my eyes I just think back to that moment of seeing peoples’ faces in so much pain, and knowing there was not really anything I could do to help them.”
Her father admitted, “it’s in the days afterwards we’ve got to look after each other,” adding that his thoughts and prayers are with survivors, and the loved ones of those who didn’t make it.
- Video Interview source: ACA