American couple files suit after barely surviving New Zealand’s deadly volcano eruption: “We are very angry”

An American couple who survived a deadly volcanic eruption in New Zealand It is filing a lawsuit Thursday against a tourism company and a cruise line. White Island volcano eruption in December killed 21 people, mostly tourists.

Matt and Lauren Urey claim that Royal Caribbean and ID Tours New Zealand Ltd. did not warn them of increased volcanic activity on the island prior to the excursion.

The couple met on and married two years later. Then, last December, they took a honeymoon cruise to Australia and New Zealand.

“We started out having the best time of our lives, and then it turned out to be just hell,” Lauren told “CBS This Morning” co-host Anthony Mason.

On December 9, they hiked the Isla Blanca volcano, taking photos near the crater. They were heading back to their boat when the volcano erupted. They heard the tour guide scream, “run,” and in less than a minute, they were engulfed in ash and smoke. They covered themselves behind a rock.

“It was completely black. You couldn’t see anything in front of you, and you could only feel your skin burning, hit with rocks. It was terrifying,” said Matt.

Matt said that he and Lauren couldn’t see each other.

“She was holding my wrist, but I had no idea but that she was there,” he said. “I really thought that was the end of my life, and I thought it was the end of Lauren’s life.”

Severely burned and barely breathing, Matt and Lauren found their way to a tourist boat, which quickly took them to the mainland. They ended up in hospitals 600 miles away.

“The hospital we were originally in … couldn’t handle all the burn victims,” ​​Lauren said, adding that Matt declined treatment until she was treated. “That’s the kind of person he is.”

Both were placed in medically induced commas and underwent skin grafts and plastic surgeries. 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, sometimes I want to, it would be easier if I wasn’t.”

“Now I do,” he said. “But at the time, when I was in New Zealand … I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t go to the bathroom by myself, I couldn’t brush my teeth, I couldn’t use the phone … and I was wondering if I would ever be normal again. “

Now at home in Virginia, the Ureys are undergoing painful laser procedures to increase mobility and break their scars.

“In fact, we sleep in separate beds because simply, between the shaking and the twists and the general discomfort, there is no way we can share a bed right now,” said Matt.

“It sucks. It just sucks,” Lauren said. “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 beautiful … I’m afraid he doesn’t think I’m beautiful, which repeatedly says yes, but it’s really difficult. “

The Ureys are suing both Royal Caribbean and the New Zealand tourism company. Other victims and families are also taking legal action.

“They needed to have done a lot more to warn these people,” said maritime attorney Michael Winkleman. “When they are going to offer a shore excursion to their passengers, they have a duty to reasonably inspect the excursion to make sure it is safe … But what Royal Caribbean, like all cruise lines, is trying to do, that is,” Hey Wait a minute, these are independent contractors, we have nothing to do with that, “but I’ve never seen a situation where the facts really support that.”

In the weeks leading up to their trip, New Zealand’s GeoNet agency raised the island’s volcanic alert level to 2. Level 3 signifies an eruption.

“If we had known that, there is absolutely no way we would have stepped on that island,” said Matt. He added that they may need surgeries once a month for the next one to two years.

“We are very angry. I mean, we are very, very angry about this,” Lauren said.

Lauren said she can now see normality “a little”.

“I owe it all to him,” she said of Matt. “I really do. It has been my rock. It has been everything to me.”

The Ureys said they plan to redo their honeymoon in the United States, possibly next year.

In a statement to CBS News, Royal Caribbean said: “We respectfully reject further comments while the investigation is still ongoing.” ID Tours New Zealand Ltd. did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBS News.