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New Zealand Volcano Survivors Are Suffering Horrific Burns Inside Their Lungs

"The patients are in so much pain and will be fighting for their life for the next two or three weeks."

by Tim Marcin
Dec 11 2019, 5:32pm

The victims who survived the volcanic eruption on New Zealand’s White Island are now battling horrific injuries ― things like burned lungs and deep-tissue burns. The injuries are so awful that one doctor said his hospital looked like a war zone.

To treat the injuries, New Zealand has ordered a massive amount of skin from the U.S. ― some 1,200 square feet, officials said Wednesday ― to provide grafts to many victims who suffered massive burns from volcanic ash and gas.

At least six people were killed by Monday’s eruption, and nine who are missing are presumed dead, with rescue crews hampered by smoke and a possible second eruption.

Nearly 50 people were injured and 25 remain in critical condition. Twenty-seven people were burned over at least 30 percent of their body, said New Zealand’s chief medical officer, Dr. Pete Watson. Officials said every burn unit in the country is at capacity and that they had to order the surplus skin for grafts to treat severe burns.

Some victims are suffering through enormous pain and still may not survive their injuries.

"It's one of the most challenging things to look at because you know the patients are in so much pain and will be fighting for their life for the next two or three weeks, and even then they could die," John Bonning, an emergency doctor treating burn patients at a local hospital, told The New Zealand Herald.

READ: Rescuers can't get to New Zealand volcano victims because they're afraid of another eruption

Bonning said that when victims arrived for treatment at Waikato Hospital, they smelled of sulphur and had bits of burned skin falling off.

"It was awful, just horrific. Saying it was like a war zone would not be an understatement," he told the Herald.

When the volcano erupted, it would have likely released poisonous gas and blasts of ultra-hot steam, Jessica Johnson, a volcanologist at the University of East Anglia in England, told CNN. That steam likely led to some of the horrible burn injuries.

READ: 'No signs of life' after volcano on New Zealand's White Island erupts

White Island is a popular tourist destination visited by thousands of people every year. The volcano last erupted in 2016 but the last fatal eruption was in 1914. Many of the visitors on the day of the eruption had stopped by as an excursion from a nearby cruise ship.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated the country will investigate the incident after some have questioned why tourists were allowed near the volcano when it was in a heightened state of activity.

Cover: A woman places flowers on a fence at the waterfront in Whakatane, New Zealand, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Survivors of a powerful volcanic eruption in New Zealand on Monday Dec. 9 ran into the sea to escape the scalding steam and ash and emerged covered in burns, say those who first helped them. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

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