White Island volcano: Death toll rises to eight, police say

Two people who were being treated in hospital after the eruption of New Zealand's White Island volcano have died, bringing the official number of victims to eight, police say.

Nine people are still officially missing, presumed dead, and efforts to retrieve bodies from the island were put on hold on Wednesday amid signs of increased seismic activity.

Another 20 people are in intensive care with severe burns.

One has been moved to Australia.

The identities of the two victims were not confirmed. Police said one had been treated at Middlemore Hospital and one at Waikato Hospital.

The volcano, also known as Whakaari, erupted on Monday when dozens of tourists were on the island.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "I've spoken to many of those involved in the operation and they are very, very eager to get back there, they want to bring people's loved ones home".

What condition are the injured in?

White Island is a popular tourist destination with frequent day tours and scenic flights available. At least 47 visitors from around the world were on the volcano crater at the time of two explosions in quick succession.

Police Minister Stuart Nash explained the injuries to the survivors were so severe that some of them were unable to identify themselves.

"There are a number of people in hospital who cannot communicate, they have significant burns not only to skin but internal organs," he told Radio New Zealand.

"We wish them the best but we're not out of the woods yet, of that there's no doubt."

Dr Peter Watson, chief medical officer at New Zealand's National Burns Unit, said an estimated 1.2m sq cm of replacement skin would be needed for the patients. An order has been placed from the US.

Several patients would be transferred to Australia by the Australian Defence Force using an intensive-care acceptable aircraft, Dr Watson said.

Where does donor skin come from?

Analysis by James Gallagher, BBC health and science correspondent

Donated skin is vital for helping to save the life of a major burns patient. Skin is our largest organ and its main job is keeping dangerous viruses and bacteria out.

The damage caused by severe burns leaves patients at very high risk of infection. Donor skin is a short-term fix.

It comes from dead organ donors – in the same way as hearts, kidneys and corneas – and can be banked for several years.

The donor skin aids healing, cuts the risk of infection and can reduce pain. The immune system is so weak after such an injury that rejection is not an issue.

A single major burns patient needs a lot of donor skin. New Zealand is treating many at the same time and has needed to turn to other countries for help.

What do we know about the victims?

New Zealand's chief coroner on Wednesday declared the eruption a "mass fatality incident".

Officials said they were working with disaster specialists and forensic experts to identify the victims so their bodies could be returned to their families.

New Zealand police have now listed nine people as officially missing – though they say this is a partial list as they have not been able to speak to all the next of kin.

These are:

  • Hayden Inman (New Zealand)
  • Tipene Maangi (New Zealand)
  • Julie Richards (Australia)
  • Jessica Richards (Australia)
  • Gavin Dallow (Australia)
  • Zoe Hosking (Australia)
  • Richard Elzer (Australia)
  • Karla Matthews (Australia)
  • Krystal Browitt (Australia)

At least seven people on the list are believed to be dead or presumed dead, based on relatives talking to media.

Tour guide Hayden Inman was identified as among the dead by his brother on Facebook.

Julie Richards and her daughter Jessica from Brisbane, Australia, were identified as victims by a family spokesperson.

Adelaide father Gavin Dallow has been named as dead, with his stepdaughter Zoe Hosking presumed dead, according to media reports.

Australian tourist Jason Griffiths, who was travelling with Karla Matthews and Richard Elzer, died in hospital on Wednesday. According to a statement released by their friends, both Karla and Richard are presumed dead.

There is also a definitive list of all victims who are in hospital but police say they cannot release this for privacy reasons.

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Why has the recovery been delayed?

On Wednesday morning, geological agency GeoNet said "the level of volcanic tremor has significantly increased at the island".

Scientists view tremors, which result from a release of energy under the Earth's surface, as one sign of a possible eruption.

In a later update, the agency said volcanic tremor, known as seismic activity, was now at the highestRead More – Source