U.S. couple "angry" after barely surviving deadly volcano eruption
An American couple who survived a deadly volcanic eruption in New Zealand filed a lawsuit against a travel agent and cruise company on Thursday. The December White Volcano eruption killed 21 people, mostly tourists.
Matt and Lauren Urey claim Royal Caribbean and ID Tours New Zealand Ltd. they would not have warned of increased volcanic activity on the island before the trip.
The couple met on match.com and married two years later. Last December they went on a honeymoon to Australia and New Zealand.
"We started having the time of our lives and then it turned out to be hell," Lauren said to Anthony Mason, CBS This Morning co-host.
On December 9, they went on a trip to the White Island volcano and took photos near the crater. They went back to their boat when the volcano erupted. They heard the tour guide scream, "run" and in less than a minute they were immersed in scorching ashes and smoke. They took cover behind a rock.
"It was just pitch black. You couldn't see anything in front of you and you could feel your skin burning and being pelted with stones. It was terrifying," said Matt.
Matt said he and Lauren couldn't see each other.
"She was holding my wrist, but I had no idea she was there," he said. "I really thought this was the end of my life and I thought that this was the end of Lauren's life."
Matt and Lauren were badly burned and barely breathed. They found the way to an excursion boat that took them to the mainland. They ended up in hospitals 600 miles apart.
"The hospital where we were originally ... couldn't treat all burn victims," Lauren said, adding that Matt refused treatment until she was treated. "That's exactly the kind of person he is."
Both were placed in a medically induced coma and subjected to skin grafts and plastic surgery. It would be almost two months before they were reunited in the United States.
When asked if she was grateful to be alive, Lauren said, "If you want me to be honest, I sometimes wished it would be easier if I wasn't."
"I am now," she said. "But at the time I was in New Zealand ... there was nothing I could do. I couldn't go to the bathroom alone, I couldn't brush my teeth, I couldn't use the phone ... and I was just wondering if I would ever be normal again. "
Now at home in Virginia, the Ureys go through painful laser procedures to increase mobility and reduce their scars.
"We actually sleep in separate beds because we only - there is currently no way to share a bed between back and forth and general discomfort," said Matt.
"It's shit. It's just shit," said Lauren. "I don't like the person I see when I look in the mirror. I obviously don't like my burns, the scars. I don't like my short hair. I don't feel nice. ... I'm afraid he'll find me not nice, what he says to me repeatedly, but - it is just very difficult. "
The Ureys are suing both Royal Caribbean and the New Zealand Tour Company. Other victims and family members are also pursuing legal action.
"You had to do a lot more to warn these people," said lawyer Michael Winkleman. "If you want to offer your passengers a shore excursion, they need to properly inspect the excursion to make sure it's safe. ... But what Royal Caribbean, like all cruise companies, is trying to do is say," Hey, wait a minute "They are independent contractors, we have nothing to do with it," but I have never seen a situation where the facts actually support it. "
In the weeks leading up to their trip, the New Zealand GeoNet agency raised the island's volcanic alert to level 2. 3 means an eruption.
"Had we known that, there was no way we could have entered this island," said Matt. He added that they may need surgery once a month for the next year or two.
"We are very angry. I mean, we are very, very angry about it," said Lauren.
Lauren said she could now see "a little" normalcy.
"I owe him everything," she said about Matt. "I really do. He was my rock. He was everything for me."
The Ureys said they plan to repeat their honeymoon in the U.S., possibly next year.
In a statement to CBS News, Royal Caribbean said, "We are respectfully declining to comment while the investigation is ongoing." ID Tours New Zealand Ltd. did not immediately return CBS News' request for comment.
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