Joy and Tui Campbell returned to their home at the base of Mt Tongariro yesterday afternoon to find their "little slice of paradise" covered in ash.
The Waikato Times joined the couple as they returned to their home, nestled between the picturesque Lake Rotoaira and the mighty Mt Tongariro.
"I can't believe that last night I was looking out my bedroom at Hiroshima. It was unbelievable, the fire, the brightness and the massive clouds of steam," Mrs Campbell said. "Then the ash started raining down and we just knew we had to get out of here."
Wearing a face mask, Mrs Campbell, an asthmatic, said she felt the heaviness in the air, but she carried on checking her animals and surveying the ash damage to her home.
The Campbells then gathered with other whanau from their tiny settlement of Rangipo where stories of the "big escape" were equalled only by theories as to why "the mountain blew".
But all of them agreed that their seamless handling of the Tongariro eruption was due to a public meeting held at a Papakai Marae last Wednesday where home owners surrounding the mountain were advised of an increased level of seismic activity in the area.
The meeting, co-ordinated by Tuwharetoa spokesman Bubs Smith, warned residents of "significant changes in the Te Maari discharge compositions since May, suggesting the emergence of deeper higher temperature system gases now making their way to the surface".
"So we kind of knew that something could happen," Mr Campbell said. "We talked about putting evacuation plans in place and getting civil defence kits together. We were even working on a siren system - but we didn't bloody think it would be needed in a few days' time."
Tuwharetoa kaumatua Vic Cassin had a feeling something was brewing up the mountain. "We were always told that when Ketetahi [hot spring] stopped steaming and releasing pressure that something was up," he said.
"I had noticed it had stopped steaming and the animals have been really on edge. The signs were there."
Mr Cassin had been watching the Olympics on Monday when his son David burst into the room to say the mountain had erupted.
David, 29, said he heard a bang, then felt the house vibrate. "I looked out and saw all these clouds of smoke, kind of like the smoke you get from burning rubber. You could see the glow and then up came these massive embers and flames." He said the fireworks continued for more than five minutes.
Mr Cassin said it was a privilege to see the mountain erupt like that in his lifetime. "That's something special - it was an honour to be part of that - such a powerful force of nature."
Now the focus turns to the cleanup of the cement-like mixture.
"I just hope people do the right thing by disconnecting and cleaning water supplies, water blasting the roof, clearing the spouting and thoroughly cleaning cars, otherwise they won't have anything left in a few months' time," Mr Cassin warned.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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