NZ cops to go on risky effort to retrieve bodies
WHAKATANE/WELLINGTON: Police in New Zealand are planning a mission to volcanic White Island today to retrieve bodies of people killed in this week's eruption, while the known death toll from the disaster climbed to eight, with two people dying in hospital.
Eight more people are missing and presumed dead, buried under ash and debris from Monday's eruption. More than 20 people are in hospital, many with severe burns, while seven others have been transferred to burns units in Australia.
"I can now confirm we are finalising a plan to recover the bodies from Whakaari/ White Island tomorrow morning," Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims said in a statement yesterday, adding families will be briefed on the operation.
Another police officer, Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement, later told a news conference the mission was risky and that a team would deploy at first light today.
Six bodies could be seen and there would be "very limited" opportunity to search for the other two, he said.
"A lot has to go right for this to work," Mr Clement said.
The volcano is "highly volatile" and could erupt again within days, said the authorities.
There are no signs of life on the uninhabited island.
"We are now living with a growing sense of desperation to bring home those that we know are there and those we love," said Ms Judy Turner, the mayor of Whakatane, the nearest town on the mainland.
There were 47 people on the island, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, at the time of the eruption.
Many of the injured are being treated for severe burns, and medical officials are importing some 1.2 million sq cm of skin.
The amount of skin needed equates to about 60 donors.
In New Zealand, only five to 10 people donate skin each year, the New Zealand Herald reported.
Teams of surgeons in several burns units around the country were working around the clock.
"What we faced on Monday was beyond comprehension," said Dr Heike Hundemer.
"I've worked in major centres in Germany as well as in New Zealand. I've never seen this number of critically injured patients coming into an emergency department in a short space of time." - REUTERS