How a Pastor and His Daughter Worked To Save Lives During Deadly New Zealand Volcano Eruption

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New Zealand pastor Geoff Hopkins and his daughter Lillani Hopkins have been credited with providing medical help to burn victims in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s volcanic eruption on White Island.

Hopkins, 50, and his 22-year-old daughter, Lillani, took a day trip together to visit White Island on Monday. They were leaving the island on a tour boat when the volcano erupted — the same volcano they had been peering into just half an hour earlier.

The tour boat immediately turned around to rescue those left behind on the island, people who were swimming away in a desperate attempt to save their lives.

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Hopkins recalled the “panicked” screams of 23 burn victims as they were brought on board the boat. “‘Get me out of here. I’m burning. I’m burning,'” Hopkins told CNN of the victim’s cries.

“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, trained only in first aid, soon found themselves as first responders in a major medical crisis, helping the crew keep people alive until they reached the shore.

“There were 23 people that had their lives in our hands,” Lillani told the New Zealand publication Stuff. “It was probably the longest two hours of my life.”

Lillani, a student at The University of Waikato, said she had completed basic first aid in order to work with children.

Instead of handing out Band-Aids and cough drops, Lillani found herself immersed in triage, determining whose injuries were the most life-threatening and placing green, orange and yellow tags on their bodies accordingly.

Victims began to slip in and out of consciousness, many going into shock as their skin blistered and peeled. Lillani was assigned to stay with and assist two people while her father cared for five.

“We had to clean people,” Lillani said. “People’s tongues were burnt, we had to clear their airways and their eyes.”

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The last leg of the trip back to shore was perhaps the most agonizing, as nothing more could be done for the victims except to comfort them in the waiting.

“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 died within hours of reaching the shore, Stuff reported.

Forty-seven people were on the island at the time of the blast and eight people have been confirmed dead, CNN reported. Survivors are being treated at four specialist burn units in New Zealand, all filled to capacity in the wake of the White Island volcano eruption.

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A graduate of Grand Canyon University, Kim Davis has been writing for The Western Journal since 2015, focusing on lifestyle stories.
Kim Davis began writing for The Western Journal in 2015. Her primary topics cover family, faith, and women. She has experience as a copy editor for the online publication Thoughtful Women. Kim worked as an arts administrator for The Phoenix Symphony, writing music education curriculum and leading community engagement programs throughout the region. She holds a degree in music education from Grand Canyon University with a minor in eating tacos.
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