Warning: Contains graphic descriptions of injuries
A young woman who helped rescue critically injured tourists from the Whakaari/White Island eruption says they were screaming and asking if they were going to die.
Lillani Hopkins, 22, and her father Geoff Hopkins visited the volcano earlier in the day and had just boarded their boat back to Whakatāne when it erupted.
They left Whakatāne just after 10am on Monday and arrived at Whakaari later that morning.
To get to the volcano, visitors board dinghies and are taken to shore by guides. Because she gets seasick, Lillani and her father were on the first dinghy to be taken to shore and were part of the first tour group to be guided around the island, she said.
They visited the crater lake and old mining buildings before leaving the island just after 2pm.
"The boat moved around to the next bay so we could get a good view of the crater and take some final photos before we headed back to the mainland."
Lillani again felt seasick and wasn't fussed about taking any more photos of the crater, so was looking away when Whakaari erupted.
"Everyone on the boat gasped, people screamed, my dad nudged me and yeah, I turned around and saw the ash cloud a couple 100 metres in the sky."
There was no loud explosion or bang - all they could hear was the boat engine, Lillani said.
The ash cloud then turned a black grey, started rising in the sky and rolled towards their boat.
"We sped off away from the ash cloud and back to where we started to where the other boat was because there were people still on the island and the ash cloud completely engulfed the island."
The other tour boat was covered in ash when they pulled up next to it, she said.
"It looked like someone had spray-painted it grey. The whole landscape had changed colour. You couldn't see the yellow sulfur, all the different minerals, there was pinks and whites but everything was just monotone grey. "
A helicopter close to the shore was crippled and had been knocked off its landing base, breaking its propellers, she said.
Lillani then spotted people in the water.
A dinghy was launched to pull them from the water and bring them back to the main tour boat, she said. It also picked up people who were close to the shore.
Anyone with medical or first-aid experience was called to help, she said. Two doctors from overseas, as well as Lillani and her father, who have both received some first aid training, went to assist.
"I've never seen so many people with so many severe burns on every part of their body. There were blisters the size of my fists put together under people's clothes. Their faces were covered in blisters and welts and there was skin just peeling off.
"I've never seen peoples fingernails just fall off ... it was horrific. Each burn was slightly different, whether it blistered or whether it was just flesh."
"Some people were screaming, asking if they were going to die and were calling out for loved ones. Others couldn't communicate because their tongues were severely burned.
"There were people who couldn't speak, couldn't speak English, so couldn't communicate what hurt or where they hurt. It was horrific. For a lot of people, there wasn't much we could do apart from reassure them, try and treat their burns and try and keep them conscious until we got back to shore."
Lillani 's father, Geoff, told Checkpoint last night they poured cold water over the burned bodies.
They cut people's clothes off and also worked to clear their airways and eyes with water, Lillani said.
"We started a chain of people filling up water bottles from the taps inside [the boat] and bringing them out to us to put over people. We had to cover their burns with items of clothing so they were out of the sun."
The injured were then wrapped in foil blankets, she said, as they were freezing cold and shaking, but burning.
They helped 23 injured people onboard until they made it back to shore. Lillani described the trip back to Whakatāne as the longest journey she has ever taken.
"When everyone was screaming in pain, I put aside any fear I had and just did whatever I could to help and I didn't stop until we got back."
When they left, there was nobody left on the island and she couldn't see any bodies.
The images of the blistered bodies are engrained in her mind, Lillani said.
"Those images of people are going to be there for a while and that's the thing that stops me sleeping at night, not the actual volcano erupting."