SYDNEY – New Zealand will import 11 square meters (118 square feet) of skin from the United States to treat the severe burns sustained by survivors of the Whakaari volcano eruption which is believed to have claimed 16 lives.
The country will pay about NZ$1.5 million (about $1 million) for 11m2 of skin acquired from a skin bank in the US, Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s Health Ministry director-general said in a Thursday press conference.
Meanwhile, New Zealand donated 10,000 square centimeters of skin for grafts to Australia, the country with the highest number of victims affected in the disaster.
A total of 21 victims of the eruption of the Whakaari volcano – located on an uninhabited island in the country’s northeast – remain hospitalized in several hospitals’ burn units, of which 16 were in a critical state, three were in serious condition and the remaining were stable.
Many victims sustained burns on more than 80 percent of their bodies and internal abrasions due to gas inhalation.
Police so far have confirmed the deaths of eight people, while another eight remain missing, but authorities have said the latter have virtually no survival chances.
Deaths could still increase given the number of seriously injured people.
New Zealand police confirmed Thursday it had located seven of eight bodies remaining in the disaster-stricken zone – including one spotted floating in the water with the help of aerial images.
Authorities have finalized a plan to return to the island Friday to recover the bodies, an operation which has so far been impossible due to the high risk of the volcano erupting again.
Experts have warned of a 50 to 60 percent chance of a fresh eruption.
The first volcanic eruption occurred Monday afternoon when 47 tourists were visiting the privately-owned island located 48 kilometers (about 30 miles) east of North Island.