American newlyweds are 'progressing' from volcano burns

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The families of American newlyweds who were badly injured during a volcanic eruption in New Zealand said Tuesday the two are progressing as well as could be hoped for given the extent of their injuries.

The couple, Lauren Urey, 32, and Matt Urey, 36, from Richmond, Virginia, remain hospitalized in New Zealand. They were visiting White Island two weeks ago on their honeymoon when the volcano erupted, killing 19 people and leaving more than two dozen others with severe burns from the scalding steam.

Meanwhile, authorities on Tuesday called off the search for two bodies they believe were washed out to sea from the island soon after the eruption. Police Superintendent Andy McGregor said extensive shoreline and aerial searches had not turned up anything new.

The families of the newlyweds issued a statement through New Zealand police.

“There are no words to express how horrible this has been for everyone involved, but we are very lucky and grateful that although Lauren and Matt are severely injured, they're still with us,” the families said.

They said that while the two were progressing as well as could be hoped for, “they both have a tremendously difficult and long road to recovery ahead of them.”

The families said in the statement they wanted to thank the healthcare professionals that helped save their loved ones, as well as police and the American consulate in New Zealand.

The families said a GoFundMe page had been set up by the couple's close friends to help with expenses such as lost wages and ongoing medical care. The campaign had on Tuesday raised $51,000 toward a goal of $100,000.

On the GoFundMe page, organizer Aaron McKendry said on Dec. 14 that the couple had already undergone multiple surgeries and had many more to come in a process that would take months.

White Island, also known by its Maori name, Whakaari, is the tip of an undersea volcano about 50 kilometers (30 miles) off New Zealand’s North Island and was a popular tourist destination before the eruption.

Many people have questioned why tourists were still allowed on the island after New Zealand’s GeoNet seismic monitoring agency raised the volcano’s alert level on Nov. 18 from 1 to 2 on a scale where 5 represents a major eruption, noting an increase in sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma.

Police reported earlier that crews on a police boat had spotted a male body in the water near the island two days after the eruption, but large waves prevented them from recovering it before it sank.

Police have identified the pair believed to be washed out to sea as New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, and Australian teenager Winona Langford, 17.

New Zealand authorities are investigating the circumstances around the disaster.