FULL RESPONSE: Whakatane Hospital’s Dr Heike Hundemer, interim Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Simon Everitt and duty nurse manager Dave van Dijk say staff activated the mass casualty plan to deal with the patients who came into the hospital on Monday, all suffering from severe burns. Photo suppled

A WHAKATANE Hospital anaesthetist said what hospital staff faced on Monday afternoon following the eruption was beyond comprehension..

Dr Heike Hundemer, clinical leader of Whakatane Hospital and consultant anaesthetist, said they first got the call from police as well as multiple calls from local contacts. “We are a small, tight community,” she said.

“Like all hospitals our team holds mass casualty training exercises. We had one recently in our Emergency Department involving junior and senior doctors, nurses and St John. But what we were faced with on Monday was beyond comprehension.

“We activated our mass casualty plan which means staff from across the hospital made their way as fast as possible to our Emergency Department.

“The mass casualty plan also triggered a wider response for additional staff to get there from across the Bay,” she said.

“Normally on a typical day in our Emergency Department, we would have about six nurses and two doctors on duty. On Monday, once we knew the extent and severity of the casualties, I think there would have been about 100 staff in our Emergency Department, acute care unit and theatres. We used every single bed space, every resource we had to care for those people.

“To put this in perspective, if we saw one patient with the severity of burns that we treated that day, this would have been a significant event for our small hospital and would have activated our trauma team. Monday is beyond anything we would have anticipated.”

Almost all the 31 patients rescued from the island were brought to Whakatane Hospital, before being transferred to burns units across the country. All had suffered severe burns, some to 90 percent of their bodies.

“I’ve worked in major centres in Germany as well as New Zealand, I’ve never seen this number of critically injured patients coming into an Emergency Department in a short space of time.”

She said the staff were deeply impacted by what they saw. “We are a tight team, in a small community some of those people who have lost their lives were known to our staff.

“It was important to me to give some comfort to every patient I treated that day. I told them they were in good hands with a professional team. We are professionals and compassionate people, those people we treated and comforted will forever stay in our minds.

“Our thoughts are with them, we feel for them, their families and friends.”

Also, on duty that day was duty nurse manager David van Dijk, who is also a hospital co-ordinator.

He said after working as a nurse for 22 years, many of those in emergency departments, what he experienced on Monday was devastating.

“The entire hospital was involved in responding to the tragic event that we were faced with.

As well as doctors and nurses we had occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, podiatrist, radiographers, Regional Maori Health, staff from Public Health, stores, kitchen, admin, orderlies, security, facilities, engineers, cleaners and volunteers – all came together to do what they could. It was all hands on deck.”

He said GPs and health professionals in the community also rallied to the hospital to help when they heard what had happened.

“For many of us, it feels surreal. Everyone deals with tragic events in their own way, many of us are still coming to terms with what happened. Our thoughts are with the victims who remain in hospital, those that sadly didn’t survive and their families and friends.”

Tourism industry rallies following eruption

TOURISM Bay of Plenty is considering removing the Bay of Plenty Official Visitor Guide that features Whakaari/White Island on the cover.

In an email to tourism operators yesterday, the organisation’s chief executive Kristin Dunne said Tourism Bay of Plenty would be looking at its marketing and promotion activity that included White Island.

“This may result in a removal of the Bay of Plenty Official Visitor Guide that features Whakaari/White Island on the cover. We will work as quickly as we can to get a replacement guide printed and re-stocked.”

She urged those operators navigating challenges as a result of the eruption to “stay strong and know that we are thinking of you”.

Ms Dunne said the priority for Tourism Bay of Plenty, Whakatane District Council and White Island Tours was to ensure the appropriate support services were in place for those directly affected by the natural disaster.

She said the tragedy had stirred many emotions for people working within the tourism industry across the region and the country.

“Our industry and community have been significantly impacted by this event but as we’ve experienced through other natural disasters, our people are resilient and we will work together to get through this,” she said.

“We stand with the tourism industry and the people of Whakatane, and our prayers and thoughts are with those who have been impacted.”

Council tourism and events manager Nicola Burgess said many local operators in the area were closely connected to people affected by the tragedy, and the outpouring of support from the community has been incredibly heart-warming.

“Whakatane is known for its warm welcome and this has truly come to the fore over the past few days as we embrace those who are grieving,” said Mrs Burgess.

“This was a natural disaster and a terrible tragedy. Whakaari is an active volcano and people have been visiting the island for over 30 years.

“White Island Tours have strict protocols including robust health and safety measures.

“We stand in solidarity with White Island Tours as we navigate through the coming weeks.”

White Island Tours chairman Paul Quinn said recovery of loved ones who are still on the island was of paramount concern and all of their resources including vessels, protection equipment and personnel had been made available to police and Civil Defence to support the recovery mission.

“Our responsibility is to provide care for our people and visitors during this difficult time.

“We are focused on wrapping the necessary support around affected families and staff, all of whom are understandably distraught.”

Mr Quinn said local liaisons were being appointed to support overseas families who are arriving in Whakatane and support packages had been put together including practical and useful items for the families as they awaited news and updates on the recovery mission.