Volcano tragedy: More Aussie victims named
Three more Australian victims of the New Zealand volcano blast tragedy have been named.
Devastated friends of NSW couple Karla Matthews, 32, and Richard Elzer, 32, issued a statement saying that the Coffs Harbour pair had tragically lost their lives on White Island.
Their friend, Jason Griffiths, 33, has died in hospital, where he was "surrounded by friends and family members".
"On the 4th of December 2019, we embarked upon a cruise as a group of 9 close friends who were looking forward to a wonderful holiday together," the statement, which was signed Alex, Daniel, Ellie, Leanne, Paul and Samantha, said.
"We enjoyed the first five days of our trip and have many memories that will stay with us forever. On the 9th of December 2019, we were devastated by the news that three of our friends were visiting White Island on a shore excursion during the time of the eruption.
"Some time later, we discovered that two of our friends, Richard Elzer and Karla Mathews, were still on the island. We have been advised that there are no signs of life on the island.
"We then located our third friend, Jason Griffiths, in a hospital in the early hours of the next morning. From that moment until the moment of his passing, Jason was surrounded by friends and family members.
We are incredibly saddened to have lost three of our closest friends."
It takes the official death toll to eight, after another victim also died in hospital overnight.
Earlier, news emerged that two Australians injured in the White Island eruption have been found in hospitals as authorities confirmed the nine tourists listed as missing might never be found.
As the RAAF begins the repatriation of injured Australians to hospital burns units in NSW and Victoria, more details have emerged about the final moments of those caught up in the horrific New Zealand volcano blast.
News Corp Australia can reveal authorities who went to the island on Tuesday, and sent drones, have only been able to pinpoint six bodies buried under ash.
The location of two others is not known but sources close to the "war room" of multiple agencies operating out of a staff cafeteria in the regional Whakatane council building say they would not have survived the initial eruption.
Many tried to escape the blast by entering the water.
They also said it was unlikely any bodies will be recovered in the near future with the volatility of the island including multiple tremors now extreme.
Seismic activity on the island, known locally as Whakaari, has significantly increased since Monday when it erupted killing six travellers, injuring more than 30 and leaving nine others - seven Australians and two New Zealanders - listed as missing presumed dead.
"Yesterday there was a high risk of an eruption today there is an even higher risk of an eruption and the parameters are worsening at the moment," GNS Science volcanic geologist Graham Leonard said.
Plumes of steam and vented mud could be seen on White Island, 50km off New Zealand's main North Island on Wednesday, with drones also recording a rise in toxic gas levels.
That news came as authorities confirmed:
• The first of the dead to be identified was Brisbane mother Julie Richards, 47, and her daughter Jessica, 20 and Adelaide lawyer Gavin Dallow with police confirming his 15-year-old stepdaughter Zoe Hosking is missing presumed dead while mum Lisa Dallow remained in critical condition in hospital;
• Sydney teenager Jesse Langford, 19, was identified as one of those in hospital but the whereabouts of his parents and sister remain unknown;
• Manukau District Health Board chief medical officer Dr Peter Watson said 1.2 million square centimetres of skin for transplant had been ordered from the US with local surgical teams working 24 hours a day on shift to deal with horrific burns injuries of the eruption victims, one square metre of skin also arrived yesterday from Australia;
• Doctors confirmed the acid from the eruption was multiplying the difficulty to deal with burns and many had burnt throats;
• Of the still 30 patients in seven hospitals, 22 are in critical condition on airway support and Australian police arrived in New Zealand to help in body retrieval and identification.
NZ Chief coroner Judge Deborah Marshall meanwhile has declared the White Island eruption a "mass fatality incident" and said it could be "some weeks" before all the deceased are officially identified.
There is speculation that moves to retrieve the bodies on the island was under way on Wednesday before a storm front rolled in and seismic activity increased.
Around Whakatane there was a lot of activity with a HMNZS Wellington warship arriving closer off the coast of White Island with a naval helicopter and a military truck arriving at the local airport.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement saying his government had activated a repatriation plan for Australian victims caught up in the eruption.
"Our focus, and that of the New Zealand Government, is on providing the best, most immediate clinical care for those in need," he said.
HOSPITAL FORCED TO STOCK UP ON GLAD WRAP
A local hospital has revealed how it had to get stocks of industrial Glad Wrap from its kitchens to help treat patients as they were brought in from the White Island tragedy.
Quick thinking medics at the modest Whakatane Hospital, on New Zealand's North Island, began wrapping the horrendously blistered, raw or completely missing skin victims - including many Australians - with the clear cling film to stave off infections and seal wounds.
They then had to race to a local shop to buy more, as much as they could, as metres of the stuff was needed.
But within the next hour they were overwhelmed with patients to the point hospital and allied health workers like physios were recruited in to help as bodies lined the corridors.
One medico who asked local media to not be named said the corridors were filled with screams.
"The smell of sulphur and burnt flesh was horrific and just the pandemonium going on."
Some were so badly burnt there was actually no skin on the body to attach life-reading sensors to.
The doctor tried to roll one patient to one side but every time he touched her, skin would fall off in his hands.
Some patients were carrying mobile phones which were ringing but medics couldn't answer them, there was nothing they could say at the height of the crisis. Other patients were screaming for loved ones already dead or dying
All the patients were eventually transferred to larger hospitals with specialist burns units.
There was so much ash coming off the patients the next day airconditioning units had to stripped and cleaned.
Councillors have been made available to all staff at Whakatane Hospital.
EMERGENCY DOCTOR DESCRIBES 'WAR ZONE' HOSPITAL
A doctor treating burns patients has given a grim account of the survival chances of volcano victims in hospital.
"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, president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, told the New Zealand Herald.
A total of 29 patients remain in intensive care at four burns units.
"It was awful, just horrific. Saying it was like a war zone would not be an understatement," Dr Bonning said.
TRIBUTES TO VICTIMS
On a hastily erected mesh fence securing the pier from which police boats come and go from Whakatane, a wall of flowers is building.
Most are being hung there by locals, many of whom line the shore looking out to the smouldering White Island, known locally as Whakaari, in both anger and hope.
But now foreign travellers are arriving, not to gawk but to pay respects. It's become a rally point for the town and travellers to hug and grieve.
Touring Brisbane mother Jaime Herron and her daughter Bella brought flowers and a note, written on the back of a paper shopping bag, addressed to all the families and victims at this tough time.
They don't know the dead or injured nor are connected to the tragedy but wanted to do something for the fallen fellow Aussies.
"They were just there having a good time then tragedy," Mrs Herron said as she hung her bouquet.
"We just wanted to pass on our thoughts to the families and victims and pay our respects. They were Australians and I have friends who are going on that ship next week when it goes back to Sydney, so it felt a little close to home."
She said it must also be terrible for locals. It is.
There is one local man, Hayden Marshall-Inman, confirmed dead and another, Tipene Maangi, listed among the missing.
Mr Maangi's family and friends have been waterside staring out at Whakaari, praying he may have survived somehow in a cave or by the water's edge and is waiting to come home.
"We have to hope, don't we?" a family member who asked not to be named said. "We want him to come home now."
Friend Shaniah Semmens said she had been crying off and on.
Mr Maangi, 24, had been working for White Island Tours, a job Ms Semmens had also once gone for.
"Everyone is just being hopeful really, I would rather it had been me than him out there," she said emotionally of her lifelong friend.
Whakatane, which has an urban population of 19,700, survives on its tourism, mussels industry and paper mill.
About half the town's population is Maori and the marae, traditional Maori meeting house, is at the centre of things physically and metaphorically.
It has been holding meetings in there to pray and mourn.
Local Steve Kerr said authorities just needed to get the bodies back to help people move on. Many locals reference Pike River Mine disaster, a 2010 coal mining accident where it took more than nine years to recover most of the dead.
"It's a spiritual thing but we also don't want another Pike River," former firefighter Steve said after he had delivered food to the marae.
"It doesn't feel right they are there and of course there are loved ones here waiting for them. This is a great town but people are sad. The Maoris particularly feel very strong about people being left out there, they see the island as having its own identity."