Authorities in New Zealand added two more people to the death toll following Monday‘s volcanic eruption, bringing the number of dead to 16 as plans to recover bodies still on the ash-covered area were delayed.
The two who were added to the death toll had been hospitalized, authorities said Thursday. The bodies of eight others presumed dead are believed to be on White Island, where the blast occurred. Six others were confirmed dead.
Around 28 people remain hospitalized and another 23 were listed in critical condition, authorities said.
While 26 of the patients had burns covering at least 30 percent of their bodies, others had suffered burns to over 90 percent of their bodies, Dr. John Kenealy, clinical director of Surgery and Perioperative Services at Middlemore Hospital, told reporters.
John Bonning, president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, told the New Zealand Herald he could smell sulfur on the victims’ clothing as he wheeled patients into the Waikato Hospital following the eruption.
He said he was shocked as their bodies shed “bits of dead skin” and “broken ash.”
“It was awful, just horrific,” said Bonning, who likened it to a war zone.
Australia was sending a military plane to bring some of its injured citizens back home for special medical care. They were expected to be transported to the states of New South Wales or Victoria beginning Thursday.
New Zealand has ordered nearly 1,300 square feet of skin from the United States to treat dozens of severe burn victims. Multiple burn units in hospitals across the country were at full capacity, Dr. Peter Watson, chief medical officer with Counties Manukau Health, said Wednesday.
Volcanic tremors on the island had intensified to a level not seen since 2016, the GeoNet seismic monitoring agency said. Another tremor has a 40 to 60 percent chance of occurring within the next 24 hours, the agency said.
Authorities believe nearly 50 tourists from various countries were on the island when Monday’s eruption happened, sending survivors into the sea to escape the scalding ash. Many were passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas and emerged with burns.
White Island had been mined for sulfur until a 1914 accident in which at least 10 people were killed and a landslide destroyed the miners’ village and the mine itself. It became a private scenic reserve in 1953 and attracts more than 10,000 visitors annually.
Some questioned why tourists were allowed on the island after semic monitoring experts raised the volcano’s alert level last month.
Fox News’ Stephen Sorace, Travis Fedschun and The Associated Press contributed to this report.