New Zealand volcano: Criminal probe launched; death toll rises to six

Gavin and Lisa Dallow on their wedding day in 2017

Gavin and Lisa Dallow on their wedding day in 2017

Fears of another eruption at the New Zealand volcano believed to have killed 15 people made it too risky for emergency teams to recover bodies, police said Wednesday, as doctors fought to save survivors who suffered horrific burns. The bodies of nine other people are believed to remain on the ash-covered island.

"We now have supply, but are urgently sourcing additional supplies to meet the demand for dressing and temporary skin grafts", Peter Watson, chief medical officer at Counties Manukau, said Wednesday.

The volcano island off New Zealand's North Island holds deep spiritual significance for his iwi or tribe, Ngati Awa, which also own the company that ran tours there before the eruption. On Tuesday, medical officials said 27 people in hospital had burns to at least 30 per cent of their bodies and many have inhalation burns that require airway support. Numerous victims sustained severe burns.

Even after it ends, many questions lie ahead for Ngati Awa and their community in Whakatane, a town on the mainland, looking out over the Bay of Plenty to Whakaari, also known as White Island. "Our surgical teams have been working around the clock".

"This is just the start of a very long process that for some patients will last several months", he said.

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Police said it would investigate the incident on behalf of the coroner in parallel with a WorkSafe New Zealand investigation.

It brings the number of Australians confirmed dead in the disaster to seven. The patients' burns are already serious from their close proximity to the volcano during the eruption - but the injuries were also complicated by gases and chemicals, Watson said.

Janine Krippner, a volcanologist and New Zealand native who works with the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program, told the Washington Post: "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when and where".

"They are heroes. and they made the right call to come off the island".

"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", New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in an interview with Reuters in Wellington.

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Scientists are is monitoring the island 24/7 and are continuing flights around the volcano to measure gas levels, an indication of how much magna is coming up in the crater.

Authorities say it's still too unsafe to carry out a recovery operation because of the volatile conditions. That has prompted some criticism authorities are being too cautious.

"We are standing by and ready to go as soon as we can be confident that the risks on the island are manageable".

"The environment on the island has changed, with increased volcanic activity since early this morning", New Zealand Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said in a statement Wednesday. From the total, 24 people were from Australia, China (2), Germany (4), Malaysia (1), New Zealand (5), United Kingdom (2) and United States (9).

A man offers flowers at the harbor in Whakatane, following the White Island volcano eruption in New Zealan, December 11, 2019. Tourists and tour guides were still exploring the volcano, including many visitors from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Ovation of the Seas. The alert level was increased further after the eruption, and remains elevated.

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