When I was growing up volcanic activity on Whakaari was continuous – yesterday was different

At 2.11pm yesterday, as the Whakaari eruption was happening, I was out mowing my lawns. From my home at Te Kaha, a tiny settlement on the North Island’s east coast, you can make out the volcano’s sunken crater. The 300-metre dust cliffs frame the northern and southern edges, and in the centre is an east-facing pit where ancient birders and old sulphur miners once did their work.

On Monday the only workers and visitors on island were tour operators and tourists, several whom never made it back from yesterday’s destruction.

At 2.15pm I went to empty the catcher, and I stood at the garden edge watching the ash cloud climb. I didn’t think too much of it. When I was growing up volcanic activity on Whakaari was more or less continuous. Every year or so the crater would spew out mud and rock. Steam was a daily occurrence, painting the horizon white.

According to GeoNet the island was in a continuous eruption from 1975 to 2000. Disaster, or at least the ever-rising threat of it, was background music in our lives. Whakaari? There she goes again.

But yesterday was different…

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