New Zealand Bowed with Third National Tragedy of 2019; Final Two Tourists Remain Missing

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New Zealand is facing its third national tragedy of 2019  thrusting the  nation into the global spotlight with the volcanic eruption of White Island and the confirmed deaths of 18 tourists who were touring the active site.

The White Island eruption is New Zealand’s second violent natural disaster and third national tragedy of 2019. Beginning with the January Christchurch Earthquake, which initiated a mass exodus from the city with more than 20,000 people leaving the earthquake prone center, New Zealanders who had not experienced a mass shooting felt the universal powerless exasperation as hate walked into a local Mosque on March 15, murdering 51, and now the White Island Volcano eruption.

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It has been ten days since the volcano erupted, scooping out an entire side of the island as 47 tourists were sightseeing. The scorching, violent, explosion killed 18 and left 24 severely burned and five others suffered less critical physical injuries.

The last two bodies Australian Winona Langford, 17, and New Zealand tour guide, Hayden Marshall-Inman, 40, have yet to be recovered. Authorities have stated the two may have been entombed, such as those from the ancient city of Pompeii, or washed out to sea. Either way, the two were the last know victims.

Tour operators who were ferrying tourists' groups to the island gave estimates that 47 people from several nations were on the island at the time of the explosion; 24 Australian, nine Americans, five New Zealanders and others from Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia.

Thirty-six victims were passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas. A crew member was also reported as missing. In the five days since the eruption, recovery teams have been searching the waters near the island for victims.

The Eruption, Aftermath and Fatalities

Extensive video's made public by tourists from the first tour group that has just departed White Island minutes before the tragedy and were back on the tour boat when the volcano, which was steaming during their accent, erupted showing plumes of smoke and scalding ash spewing more than 12,000 feet into the air.

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The thick shroud of scalding ash was falling as a group of tourists were reaching its summit, and a second group of tourists were waiting to be picked up at the water's edge having completed their day sightseeing trip.

According to New Zealand National Operation Commander and Deputy Commissioner John Tims stated, "There are currently 30 patients in six hospitals around New Zealand, Middlemore, Hutt Valley, Auckland City, Tauranga, Waikato and Christchurch. Twenty-five patients are critical with the remainder stable but serious [condition]."

Skin Ordered from U.S. To Meet Demand of Burn Victims

The severity of the burns has resulted in a global order of more than 1,300 feet of skin to be used for skin graft for the victims. The skin is provided by organ donors who designate skin for transplant upon death. The skin is usually removed from the deceased's back and backs of the legs. Donors must register "any needed organ" or specific organ donations and stipulate skin before it can be removed.

Dr. Peter Watson, chief medical officer of Counties Manukau Health, said at a press conference Wednesday that there are 29 patients being treated in intensive care and burn units at four different hospitals throughout New Zealand. Twenty-four of the burn patients remain in critical condition.

"'We currently have stock but are urgently sourcing additional supplies to meet the demand for dressing and temporary skin grafts. We anticipate we will require an additional 1.2 million sq cms of skin for the on-going needs of the patients. These supplies are coming from the United States and the order has been placed," Watson said.

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He added, "The nature of these burns is complicated by the gases and chemicals in the eruption. This has necessitated more rapid surgical treatment of these burns than is the usual case for thermal only burns. As such surgical teams have been working around the clock, non-stop, to expedite the initial surgical treatment of the patients. This is just the start of a very long process that for some patients will last several months."

Returning Home

The Australian Military of Defense was called into action transporting the thirteen Australians who had been hospitalized in New Zealand, eleven of which were critically injured, back to their homeland.

"Some 47 people, including 24 Australian citizens and four permanent residents, were on the island when the volcano erupted on Monday. Ten Australians are now confirmed dead, two are presumed to have died and 12 are still being treated in hospitals after being repatriated with severe burns," reported The Guardian.

Several of the rescued and initial survivors have succumbed to their injuries including three Australian's, Krystal Eve Browitt, 21, Matthew, 13, and Berend Hollander, 16, who were on the island with their parents Martina and Barbara who are presumed dead.

Dr Watson, who has explained the trauma has taken a toll on his staff as well. The "severely critical patients, many of whom are in surgery every second day." The medical community has responded as "new surgeons are arriving - we're in a very fortunate position to have overseas burns specialists approaching us and offering their support and the first one has arrived and is going to be joining our teams tomorrow which is going to give much needed relief to our teams," he said.

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The road to recovery for the remaining eleven patients is long and arduous. It will be months before they will be stable enough to move and complete the journey and recovery in their homelands. The recovery process as the victims are severely injured with burns covering nearly 80% of their bodies is lengthy.



Sources: Various, Images courtesy of Pixabay, no attribution necessary.

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