A New Zealand pastor and his daughter are being hailed as heroes for providing much needed medical help to burn victims in the New Zealand Volcano eruption.
Geoff Hopkins, 50, and his daughter Lillani Hopkins, 22, visited White Island and were leaving the island on a tour boat when the volcano they had been peering into just half an hour earlier erupted all of a sudden.
The tour boat turned around to save others left behind on the island, while some people tried swimming away in a desperate attempt to save their lives.
Hopkins remembers the “panicked” screams of 23 burn victims as they were getting into the boat, “‘Get me out of here. I’m burning. I’m burning,’” Hopkins said of their cries.
Right now, I just don’t have the words.
“A lot of people were in shorts, T-shirts, so their faces, their arms, their hands, their legs (were burned),” Hopkins said. “Skin falling off, and hanging from chins. From fingers. From elbows.”
Hopkins and Lillani, who were only trained in first aid, became first responders in a major medical crisis, they were key in helping the crew keep people alive until they reached the shore.
“There were 23 people that had their lives in our hands,” Lillani said. “It was probably the longest two hours of my life.” Lillani, a student at The University of Waikato, had completed basic first aid in order to be able to work with children.
She was immersed in triage, determining which injuries were the most life-threatening and placing green, orange and yellow tags on their bodies accordingly.
As the victims were slipping in and out of consciousness and some were in shock as their skin blistered and peeled. Lillani stayed with them and assisted two other people while her dad cared for five others. “We had to clean people,” Lillani said. “People’s tongues were burnt, we had to clear their airways and their eyes.”
The last leg of the trip back to shore was extremely agonizing and all they could do was to comfort the victims. “In the last 10 minutes we ran out for fresh water and there was nothing I could do but be with them,” Lillani said. “So it was just trying to reassure people that help was on the way, that they were going to be OK … And just keep them alive.
“A lot of people were just screaming and crying. The whole way back,” she said. Of the 23 burn victims on board, 5 of them died within hours of reaching the shore.
Out of the 47 people on the island when the eruption occurred, 8 people were confirmed dead. Survivors were being treated at four specialist burn units in New Zealand, which were all filled to capacity due to the White Island volcano eruption.