/New Zealand officials confirm 8 deaths from White Island volcano eruption, plan recovery mission for more bodies

New Zealand officials confirm 8 deaths from White Island volcano eruption, plan recovery mission for more bodies

Four days after a volcanic eruption on White Island, New Zealand police plan to recover the bodies of victims from the popular tourist destination. 

A decrease in volcanic risk may allow police to land on the island Friday morning local time, though scientists cautioned there is still a 50 to 60% chance of another eruption.  

The volcano continued to produce tremors Thursday, said Graham Leonard, senior scientist with GNS Science, and was “highly volatile.”

Earlier in the day, authorities confirmed a total of eight deaths and another eight people were presumed dead on the island. That brings the suspected total death count to 16.

Many of those who survived the blast suffered horrific burns. Another 28 people are still hospitalized, including 23 in critical condition.

A handout satellite photo made available by MAXAR Technologies shows the White Island (Whakaari) volcano one day after erupting, in New Zealand, Dec. 11, 2019.

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Forty-seven people were on the popular tourist island at the time of the eruption, some of whom were walking along the rim of the crater. Survivors ran into the sea to escape the scalding steam and ash and emerged covered in burns, said those who first helped them.

A majority of the burns, said Dr. John Kenealy, clinical director of surgery at Counties Makanau, were severe. Some patients’ burns covered 90% to 95% of their bodies.

“This number of burns is unprecedented in New Zealand,” Kenealy said, “and in the rest of the world.”

New Zealand ordered 186,000 square inches of skin grafts from the United States to aid the burn victims.

Contributing: Joshua Bote, USA TODAY; The Associated Press