New Zealand volcano toll climbs, recovery efforts delayed | News | DW | 12.12.2019
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New Zealand volcano toll climbs, recovery efforts delayed

The official death toll from the eruption of a New Zealand volcano has risen to eight. Authorities said a "highly volatile" situation at the disaster site is frustrating efforts to recover eight others presumed dead.

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New Zealand police: 'The risk has not gone'

New Zealand police said two more people died in hospital, bringing the total number of fatalities from the volcanic eruption on White Island to eight.

The toll is expected to keep rising, with eight others presumed dead on the island and more than 20 victims hospitalized and receiving treatment for severe burns.

Authorities are reluctant to send recovery teams back to the island to retrieve bodies amid warnings that another eruption could be imminent.

"We are now living with a growing sense of desperation to bring home those that we know are there and those we love," Judy Turner, mayor of the nearby town of Whakatane, told reporters. "The frustration of those families most affected is completely understandable."

Police said they were monitoring the situation and were planning to deploy a recovery mission on Friday morning.

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Sydney brothers die in hospital

The volcano erupted on Monday afternoon, spewing plumes of scorching ash thousands of meters into the air. There were 47 people on the island at the time.

Twenty-four of those were from Australia, nine from the United States, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two each from China and Britain and one from Malaysia.

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Sydney high school Knox Grammar named the latest two fatalities as brothers Matthew and Berend Hollander. In a statement, the school said the deaths were a "devastating loss for our community," adding that the boys' parents were still unaccounted for.

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Recovery teams on standby

Volcanologist Nico Fournier said there was a 50%-60% chance of another eruption on the island on Thursday.

He said any recovery teams sent there could be "pummeled to death" by flying rocks in the event of another eruption, or exposed to ash and poisonous gases in temperatures exceeding hundreds of degrees Celsius.

"We're talking about very high speed, high impact, high temperature," he told reporters. "The situation remains highly volatile."

Read moreIf you live near one of these volcanos, move!

A man attaches a bouquet of flowers to a fence in Whakatane

People have left tributes to the victims of the volcano eruption at Whakatane's waterfront

Shortage of skin

Meanwhile, New Zealand hospital staff have been working around the clock to treat survivors who suffered serious burns.

The country's burn units have had to import an extra 120 square meters (186,000 square inches) of skin from Australia and the United States for grafting onto patients.

Privately owned White Island — also known by its Maori name Whakaari  — is a popular tourist attraction. Located about 50 kilometers (30 miles) off New Zealand's North Island, it draws more than 10,000 visitors each year.

nm/sms (AFP, dpa)

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