A recovery team has retrieved six bodies from New Zealand’s White Island volcano in spite of eruption risks, four days after it erupted.
Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of the New Zealand Ministry of Health, said this at a news conference.
Efforts are still being made to recover two more bodies, including one that was spotted in the water near the shore of the Volcano Island. The other one is still missing and presumed dead.
At the time of the eruption, there were 47 tourists and tour guides on the island, a major scenic spot about 30-minute sailing from the east coast of the North Island.
The six bodies were transported on the HMNZS Wellington, a New Zealand navy vessel, while 15 victims are being treated in burns units nationwide, and 13 Australians transferred back to home hospitals.
The recovery brings the official death toll from Monday’s eruption to at least 15.
“Today was all about reuniting them with their loved ones,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
“We know that reunification won’t ease that sense of loss or grief because I don’t think anything can, but we felt an enormous duty of care as New Zealanders to make sure that we brought their family members back,” Ardern said.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said, “We are very focused on finding the other two and returning them to their loved ones.”
Families of the victims attended a sea blessing at sea close to the White Island, 50km offshore from Whakatane, on Friday morning.
GNS scientist Graham Leonard said the volcanic island in the Eastern Bay of Plenty of New Zealand’s North Island is highly volatile at the moment.
According to updated calculations provided by GeoNet volcanologists on Thursday afternoon, there is a 50 per cent to 60 per cent chance of another eruption occurring that could impact outside of the marked vent area within the next 24 hours.
Since around 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday local time, the level of volcanic tremor has significantly increased at the island, said GeoNet on Wednesday.
“I hope the time comes when we can all pay tribute to what they did today because although the best science and information available was used to try and make sure that we looked after them, there was a huge amount of courage still required to do what they did today,” Arden said while acknowledging those involved in Friday’s recovery operation.
Two Chinese nationals were among those injured, according to the Chinese Embassy in New Zealand.
Bloomfield said that the national multiple complex burn action plan had been activated.
Many of the injured tourists are said to have more than 30 per cent of the body burnt.
“The small team of two doctors and six nurses at Whakatane Hospital’s emergency department were confronted with one of the country’s largest natural disasters,” the hospital said.
“I’ve never seen this number of critically injured patients coming into an emergency department in a short space of time,” Dr Heike Hundemer, Whakatane Hospital’s Clinical Leader, said.
Messages and medical resources have been sent to New Zealand from the U.S., Australia and Britain, including skin for grafts.
Survivors from Australia have been transferred to Melbourne and Sydney after medical evaluation.
Only one Australian patient will remain in a New Zealand hospital by Friday.
The White Island, a volcanic island, is a famous tourist attraction which people can explore by boat or by helicopter. If safety conditions permit, visitors can even enter the main volcano crater.