Parents’ legacy lives on for young children orphaned by White Island tragedy

Family members caring for three young American children orphaned by the Whakaari / White Island tragedy are ensuring the loving legacy of their parents lives on with the trio.

Pratap, 49, and Mayuari Singh, 42, were among the 22 people who lost their lives when the volcano off the Bay of Plenty coastline erupted on December 9, 2019.

The couple were part of a tour group on the island at the time of the eruption.

Mayuari died in Middlemore Hospital on December 22. She had suffered burns to 72 per cent of her body. Her husband died on January 28 in Middlemore Hospital, having suffered burns to 55 per cent of his body.

The Singh’s nephew, Bhupender Singh, flew out to New Zealand soon after the learning his loved ones had been critically injured in the tragedy; keeping bedside vigils for them as they bravely battled.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald in the lead-up to the year-anniversary of the disaster, he said the children – an 11-year-old son, and twin 6-year-old daughters – were given daily reminders of their parents’ special qualities.

“I am caring for them with help from other extended family,” Bhupender said.

“They talk about their parents a lot. I talk to them a lot about their parents. We don’t like to talk about the incident, we talk about how they were before [the eruption].

“We talk about the good memories.”

Indian-born Pratap immigrated to America in 1992 and the entrepreneur had dedicated 25 years to a range of non-profit charity work, including raising money to support underprivileged children.

The Singhs had lived in Atlanta, where Pratap was the president of SEWA International Atlanta USA, where he led the Sponsor-A-Child initiative. The project funds the education and healthcare of hundreds of underprivileged children.

His charity work also included helping on programmes rebuilding schools and shelters for children in Nepal who lost their families in the devastating earthquake which struck the South Asian nation in 2015.

“He obviously led from the front [with charity] and knew that with more people coming out to help, he knew that the world would be a better place,” Bhupender previously told the Herald.

“He made people realise why charity work was important. He brought it to the attention of others … a lot of time people take it for granted and forget and get lost between life and personal family, that the world outside needs help.”

He also remembered Mayuari as being “a beloved member of the American-Indian community, a true supermom, a responsible guardian, an ambitious professional, and an endearing friend who enjoyed sharing her culinary expertise and delicious homemade meals.

“She was one of a kind — we love her, we miss her so much.”

Bhupender said Pratap and Mayuari Singh had been “my guardians in the US when I was a young teenager”.

After their deaths he had vowed to do all he could to support the couple’s three children.

“They are going okay. They are doing school, mostly from home and digital learning,” he told the Herald ahead of the anniversary.

“The son is okay and has accepted [what has happened]. He has grasped the reality of the situation and the fact his parents will not return.

“The twins haven’t fully absorbed the reality, that their parents didn’t come back from [New Zealand].”

Bhupender remained with his loved ones at Middlemore Hospital from December 10, through to their eventual deaths.

In a statement confirming Pratap’s death on January 20, he said “the last 50 days of my life were distressing, slow and . . . painful.”

Talking to the Herald ahead of the anniversary he said he was personally going “okay” after the emotional journey he had travelled while being bedside with his loved ones in hospital, then grieving along with family members after the couple’s death, and now helping to care for the three children.

“I have come back and are trying to find the new normal. It is tough but I have good support surrounded by family members.”

Bhupender also confirmed the Singh family had been contacted by attorneys about potential legal action against tour operators following the tragedy.

Families of some of the Australians who were killed in the eruption, and surviving American honeymooners Matt and Lauren Urey, have confirmed they will take legal action.

Bhupender said the Singhs had not committed to following suit as yet, but added: “We want to keep that opportunity open”.

He had previously said he believed “proper safety equipment would have saved my family”.

He believed those taking part in a tourist activity on a live volcano should be outfitted with “proper safety equipment including appropriate heat resistant gear/clothing, safety glasses, helmets and face masks”.

The issue of health and safety will feature in the charges laid by WorkSafe a week ago against 13 parties in relation to the tragedy.

Meanwhile, Bhupender again paid tribute to the doctors, nurses and specialists who cared for the Singhs and gave them the “best medical care possible”.

“The hospital staff couldn’t have done anything more,” he said. “And we appreciate all the generosity from New Zealand. We thank everyone from that.”

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