New Zealand orders 1,292 square feet of skin from US to treat White Island victims

New Zealand has ordered 1,292 square feet of skin from the US to treat burn victims of the volcanic eruption that took place on White Island. The disaster left eight people dead and more than 20 injured, some of them critically.

At the time of the incident there were 47 people on White Island located off the coast of North Island. Even as rumblings continued on the island post the volcanic eruption, search and rescue operations are being carried out by authorities.

White Island volcano erupts
Aerial view of Whakaari/White Island volcano in New Zealand. Krzysztof Belczyński / Wikimedia Commons

According to medical officers, out of 29 victims admitted in the hospital with burn injuries, 27 have 30 per cent burns on their bodies. As many as 22 people have breathing problems as they had damaged their lungs after inhaling sulfur dioxide and volcanic ash after the incident. They are currently on airway support. A number of others have burns covering 95 per cent of their bodies.

Addressing the media, District Health Board's Peter Watson said: "We currently have (skin) supply but are urgently sourcing additional supplies to meet the demand for dressing and temporary skin grafts. We anticipate that we will require an additional 1.2 million square centimeters (1,292 square feet) of skin for the ongoing needs of the patients."

"The skin order has been placed and will come from the United States. Skin and tissue banks from neighboring Australia, like the Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria, are also providing skin grafts and supplies," he added.

Stating that the victims' injuries were complicated owing to close proximity to the volcano, Watson said: "The demand for skin is particularly high given the unprecedented number of severe burns to the victims. The patients' burns are already serious from their close proximity to the volcano during the eruption, but the injuries were also complicated by gases and chemicals."

It is a long road to recovery

White Island is a major tourist attraction and is visited by tourists from several countries. After some foreign tourists recover from their injuries, they would be sent to their home countries for further treatment.

Speaking about the nature and extent of injuries suffered by the victims,Jessica Johnson, a volcanologist at the University of East Anglia, said: "When White Island erupted, there would have been so much poisonous gas released that people would have been able to taste the chemicals." The volcano -- which has an acidic lake in its crater -- would also have thrown out boiling hot steam clouds.The patients' severe burns were probably from these steam blasts. Apart from the steam, they could also have been injured by "very hot rock debris".

Watson, while maintaining that patients would take a long time to recover, said the complications meant the patients needed to be rushed for surgical treatment more urgently than those with usual burn cases. "This is just the start of a very long process that, for some patients, will take several months," he added.