Australian Mother and Her 20-Year-Old Daughter Confirmed Dead After New Zealand Volcano Eruption
A family in Australia has been left heartbroken after it was confirmed that the mother and daughter were two of the victims in Monday’s volcanic eruption on White Island.
Julie Richards and her daughter Jessica were traveling with the Ovation of the Seas cruise line when they were involved in the eruption that tragically claimed their lives, Perth News Now reports.
John Mickel, a spokesperson for the Richards family, confirmed the sad news during a press conference on Wednesday, explaining that Julie, 47, and Jessica, 20, had departed for New Zealand last Monday and were expected home this coming weekend.
“For this family, [the festive season] will be one of deep poignancy,” Mickel said. “You live in hope that it’s not going to be your loved one’s name that comes up. … The hope was snuffed out this morning.”
“The family today, of course, are united in grief,” he added, noting that the Brisbane mother and daughter were both “outdoor adventurist people” who loved sports. “If there was an adventure, then they would be the ones to do it.”
In the wake of the eruption, Julie and Jessica’s relatives told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation they had been frantically searching for the pair, calling hospitals, the cruise line, New Zealand police and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for any information.
Unfortunately, just a few days later, loved ones learned the worst about the mother and her daughter, who was studying veterinary technology at the University of Queensland’s Gatton campus, according to Mickel.
Following the sad news, Professor Nigel Perkins, UQ School of Veterinary Science (Head of School) for the University, issued a statement to PEOPLE about Jessica’s passing and confirmed that the students at their school had been offered support.
“We are devastated by the tragic news from New Zealand. Jessica was a gifted, compassionate, high achieving veterinary technology student with a love for equine science,” Perkins said. “Her loss will be deeply felt by students and staff from The University of Queensland’s Gatton campus. Jessica touched the lives of many, and our thoughts are with her family and friends at this most difficult time.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also sent her condolences to the Richards family, whom she said she knew personally.
“It’s with deep sadness we learn of the deaths of Julie and Jessica Richards in the New Zealand volcano tragedy,” she wrote in a tweet. “I know members of the family. I know how much Julie and Jessica are loved and how terribly devastating their loss is.”
“I offer my profound condolences to everyone going through what this family is going through. I also offer my admiration to rescuers and the Brisbane medical teams comforting the injured,” she added.
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While the Richards family copes with the unimaginable loss, another Australian family is remaining hopeful that their loved ones will return alive.
The Langford family has already found a small sense of solace after 19-year-old Jesse Langford, who was initially deemed missing, recently turned up in a New Zealand hospital, his grandfather told 7 News.
Jesse was vacationing with his father Anthony, mother Kristine, and his 17-year-old sister Winona when the volcano erupted. At this time, the rest of the family remains unaccounted for.
“We don’t know anything at all,” Anthony’s brother Rodney Langford said. “But I’m hoping that somebody knows anything, has seen my brother, knows my brother or has seen his wife or their kids.”
New Zealand Police confirmed on Thursday morning local time that the death toll from the White Island eruption had risen from six to eight people. The most recent victims were being treated at Middlemore Hospital and Waikato Hospital when they died, police said.
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The fatal blast occurred on Monday, just after 2 p.m. while 47 travelers — who were from the United States, Australia, China, Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom — were on the island, police said.
Thirty-eight of the tourists were traveling on Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship Ovation of the Seas, the New Zealand Herald reported.
On Wednesday, Dr. Peter Watson, chief medical officer of Counties Manukau Health, said at a press conference that there are 29 patients currently being treated in intensive care and burn units at four different hospitals throughout New Zealand. Twenty-four of the burn patients remain in critical condition.
Doctors in New Zealand are currently awaiting nearly 1,300 square feet of skin from the United States in order to treat the victims. Skin grafts come from people who are registered to donate skin after their deaths, and typically are taken from the donors’ backs or the backs of their legs, CNN reported.
Jessica Johnson, a volcanologist at the University of East Anglia in England, told the outlet that many of the victims’ severe burns were likely from steam blasts pushed out by an acidic lake sitting in the volcano’s crater.
In the meantime, police said that a “significant operation” has begun to try to identify the deceased and return them to their loved ones.
Police also issued a list of nine missing people who remain unaccounted for, including seven Australians and two people from New Zealand.
Authorities are currently investigating whether it was safe to have tourism at such an active volcano, but said it is too early to tell whether there will be a criminal investigation surrounding safety rules on the island, the Herald reported.
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