Many victims of the White Island disaster are yet to wake up, a doctor says. Picture: Supplied
Many victims of the White Island disaster are yet to wake up, a doctor says. Picture: Supplied

Volcano victims' appalling injuries

Most of the people severely burned in the White Island volcano disaster don't yet know what has happened to them, according to a New Zealand doctor.

Plastic surgery consultant Michelle Locke told Radio New Zealand many of the victims still hadn't regained consciousness in hospital one week on from the eruption, which has killed 16 people and left dozens more with devastating injuries.

Twelve Australians died in the disaster and another 13 have been flown to hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne for treatment, but many more victims remain in intensive care units across New Zealand.

 

Thirteen Australian survivors have been flown to hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne for treatment. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett
Thirteen Australian survivors have been flown to hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne for treatment. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett

 

Many survivors will have weeks of treatment ahead of them. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett
Many survivors will have weeks of treatment ahead of them. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett

"Of the eight burns that we have at Middlemore (Hospital), five of them are still in a critical condition, many of them are still intubated and ventilated and are in our intensive care unit. At the moment, many of them have not yet woken up," Dr Locke said.

She said several victims had "very deep" burns - including chemical burns - that would require weeks of treatment and millions of dollars worth of cadaver skin to repair.

"They've got injuries to the lungs and airways as well that are a bit different than we've seen before," she said.

"Our burns surgeons are trained to deal with all areas of the body, but certainly areas like the hands and the face we consider to be special areas," she added.

 

Twenty-four Australians were on the volcano when it erupted last week. Picture: Ap/Michael Schade
Twenty-four Australians were on the volcano when it erupted last week. Picture: Ap/Michael Schade

The dramatic update comes as New Zealand begins to debate the future of tourism on White Island in the country's picturesque Bay of Plenty.

While some have called for tours to stop immediately, others including the former mayor of Whakatane, Tony Bonne, say the volcano is too important to the local, regional and national tourism economy to shut down permanently.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she will decide early next year whether to launch a major investigation - and possibly a royal commission - into the disaster.

 

 

Two investigations are already underway, including a coronial inquiry and workplace health and safety probe, but Ms Ardern says some important questions may remain.

"I have asked for advice from officials to look into whether there are any gaps that need to be addressed that fall outside of a potential coronial inquiry and the WorkSafe investigation. I expect advice on this in the new year," she said on Monday.

The WorkSafe inquiry, which could take up to a year to complete, will look at whether tour operators on the privately-owned island were at fault for the disaster. Police will also look into the effectiveness of the emergency response, Ms Ardern said.

The PM has also announced a hefty relief fund for small businesses in Whakatane to help make ends meet after the eruption.



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