New Zealand will import 118 sq.ft of skin from the US to treat the severely burnt survivors of the Whakaari/White Island volcano eruption which is believed to have claimed 16 lives, a government official said on Thursday.

The country will pay about NZ$1.5 million (about $1 million) for the skin acquired from a skin bank in the US, Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s Health Ministry Director-General said in a Thursday press conference.

A total of 21 victims of the eruption of the Whakaari volcano, located on an uninhabited island in the country’s northeast, remain hospitalized in several hospitals’ burn units, of which 16 were in a critical state, three were in serious condition and the remaining were stable.

Many victims sustained burns on more than 80 per cent of their bodies and internal abrasions due to gas inhalation.

Deaths could still increase given the number of seriously injured people.

New Zealand police confirmed on Thursday it had located seven of eight bodies remaining in the disaster-stricken zone – including one spotted floating in the water with the help of aerial images.

Authorities have finalized a plan to return to the island Friday to recover the bodies, an operation which has so far been impossible due to the high risk of the volcano erupting again.

Experts have warned of a 50 to 60 per cent chance of a fresh eruption.

The volcano erupted on Monday afternoon when 47 tourists were visiting the privately-owned island located 48 km east of North Island.