At least five people have been confirmed dead after New Zealand’s most active volcano erupted on Monday afternoon

By Joelle Goldstein
December 09, 2019 08:01 PM

An American couple who were celebrating their honeymoon with a visit to the New Zealand volcano that erupted on Monday haven’t been heard from since they last left a harrowing voicemail to their family, revealing they had been badly burned.

The families of Matthew and Lauren Urey are desperately searching for the Virginia couple after their last form of communication indicated that they were hospitalized for severe injuries from the volcanic eruption, The Washington Post reports.

Lauren’s mother Barbara Barham told the outlet that she learned of the distressing message, which was recorded by Matthew, after his mom discovered it on her voicemail and contacted Barham.

“[Matthew said] there had been a volcano eruption and they were burned very bad[ly],” Barham shared. “He said he would try to call as soon as he could, but talking and making phone calls was difficult.”

“His hands were so badly burned it was hard for him to make a phone call,” she added.


Prior to learning about the voicemail, Barham said she received a call from Royal Caribbean, the company that owns the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, which was touring the island at the time of the incident, asking if she had heard from her daughter.

Sadly, Barham had not, but revealed to the Post on Monday that Matthew and Lauren were on the cruise ship celebrating their honeymoon, nearly two months after tying the knot. She added that the pair “weren’t concerned about possible eruptions.”

“Obviously, I’m panicking. I don’t know how to act,” she told the outlet. “I feel like I should be crying, but I can’t even cry.”

New Zealand volcano

The Richmond couple were two of the 47 unassuming people who were caught up in the fatal volcanic eruption on White Island just before 2:15 p.m. local time.

Of those people, 38 were on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship — 37 passengers and 1 crew member — while the others were comprised of locals and overseas tourists.

New Zealand Police confirmed on Tuesday local time that the incident left at least five people dead and 31 others hospitalized, while eight still remain unaccounted for in the wake of the eruption.

Those still missing are believed to be dead, according to a press release from NZP, which said authorities have been tirelessly searching the island with rescue helicopters and that “no signs of life have been seen at any point.”

“Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation,” a spokesperson for the NZP said. “Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island.”

Volcano in New Zealand
John Boren/Getty

After the eruption, authorities said survivors were transported to seven hospitals across the country, including Whakatane Hospital and Middlemore Hospital, for “specialist care.” Three patients have since been released from Whakatane Hospital, but no identities have been released.

In a statement to CNN, Royal Carribean said, “We are devastated by today’s events and our hearts go out to all those affected by this tragedy. We are working together with local authorities, and we are providing all the help and care we can to our guests and their families, including offering medical resources and counseling. We are also sending staff members from both our ship and our Sydney and Auckland offices to assist family members however possible. Ovation of the Seas will remain in port as long as needed to assist with the situation.”

During a press conference on Monday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the situation and confirmed that police were actively searching for those still unaccounted for.

Authorities also explained that the conditions on the island were “too dangerous” for rescuers, as the land was “covered in ash and volcanic material,” but that they were using aerial assistance and assessing the situation with experts.

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GeoNet, a site that provides geological hazard information for New Zealand, announced that they suspended the broadcast of their webcams of the volcanic eruption, as well as photos of the moments before the incident amid rescue operations.

White Island is New Zealand’s most active volcano, according to GeoNet. More than 10,000 people visit the volcano every year, despite its activity, GeoNet said.

The volcano has previously erupted in 2016, 2012, and from December 1975 to September 2000, which was the longest historic eruption episode, GeoNet reports.