The official ceremony hosted by Ngati Awa to mark the first anniversary of the Whakaari disaster has begun.
Exactly one year ago today, the volcano erupted killing 22 people and injuring another 25. A minute's silence will be observed at 2.11pm marking the exact moment some people's lives were changed forever.
The main event is taking place at the Mataatua Wharenui in Whakatane. There will also be a public event at a nearby reserve, with a big screen provided so that those attending can follow the ceremony at the marae.
The event started at 1pm and is expected to last around 90 minutes.
Due to Covid-19 some of the traditional aspects of the powhiri have been set aside.
Governor-General of New Zealand Dame Patsy Reddy, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Whakatane Mayor Judy Turner were present, and messages from families who could not attend will be read out. Avey Woods, mother of Hayden Marshall-Inman who died in the eruption, will also speak.
Dame Patsy thanked Te Runanga o Ngati Awa chair Joe Harawira for bringing them together to pay tribute.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the official ceremony marking the anniversary of Whakaari eruption (Image: RNZ)
"The 9th of December is a dark day in our nation's history and also in the family histories of visitors from Australia, United Kingdom, United Sates, Germany, China and Malaysia.
"To the families of the 22 people who lost their lives as a result of the Whakaari eruption, I extend my deepest condolences on behalf of all New Zealanders."
She paid tribute to the first responders for their heroic efforts to save lives and for the acts of courage and compassion in the community.
"During what would have seemed like a very long journey back to Whakatane, members of the tour group reached out to the injured and dying, providing comfort and relief where they could.
"Ngati Awa extended aroha and manaakitanga to families struggling with grief and loss, this wharenui Mataatua became their house of refuge.
"The lives of the survivors of the eruption will never be the same. People injured that day have had to draw on all their reserves of strength, physical and emotional, in their commitment to survive months of surgery and rehabilitation."
She said parallels could be drawn between challenges experienced with the Whakaari eruption and the pandemic.
Earlier today about 100 people gathered for a dawn service in Whakatane to remember those who died or were injured.
Local iwi Ngati Awa also facilitated the dawn service at Whakatane Heads.
Those gathered performed karakia and sung emotional waiata, facing the ocean in the direction of Whakaari.
Among those attending were former tour guides Kelsey Waghorn and Jake Milbank, who were New Zealand's only survivors of the eruption. Both suffered serious injuries.
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