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Victim Support establishes specialist Whakaari team

A dedicated team of three will work full-time with survivors, families of those who have lost loved ones, witnesses and others impacted by the disaster.

Lydia Allan, Victim Support’s Eastern/Bay of Plenty Area Manager, was among those gathered at Whakatane Heads, for a dawn service commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Whakaari/White Island disaster. “We joined the police, fire service and St John. It was a lovely service but very, very emotional as these were the first responders,” says Lydia.

Lydia Allan smiling

There was karakia and waiata for the 20 foreign tourists and two local tour guides who lost their lives on 9 December 2019. More than 18 months on from the White Island/Whakaari volcano eruption, Victim Support’s work with all of those affected continues. Recently, Victim Support established a dedicated team with three  staff who will work full-time with survivors, families of those who have lost loved ones, along with witnesses and others impacted by the disaster.

“One of the first things they will be doing is going through all of the case notes and files we have, re-establishing contact with victims who haven’t been contacted for a while, or ones that haven’t engaged, to check in and see how they are coping,” says Lydia. This includes quite a number of people who are based overseas.

WorkSafe New Zealand, who is responsible for investigating incidents to ensure health and safety responsibilities are met, has filed 13 charges against parties in relation to the eruption.

Victim Support routinely provides practical and emotional support to those involved in work-related incidents although as Lydia acknowledges, Whakaari would be the most high-profile incident to date. “We are working with WorkSafe and when a communication has gone out to the victims, they generally inform us that it has gone  out and what the communication has said so that we can then go in behind that and provide the emotional support the victims might need,” she says.

Pretrial hearings for the WorkSafe investigation are already occurring.

Lydia anticipates that more people will come forward seeking support once the trial date is set and when the trial comes up. “What happened at Whakaari on that day is still so deeply felt. Not just emotionally but on many different levels. It’s made a big difference to the economy in Whakatane which has had a further social impact.”

“We were already at capacity in the Eastern Bay of Plenty with staff and volunteers really stretched, so having this dedicated team for our Whakaari response is going to make a huge difference,” she says.

This article first appeared in our Voice newsletter.