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New Zealand police open criminal probe into volcano deaths

Authorities said Tuesday that six deaths are confirmed, and eight other people are feared dead.

New Zealand police are opening a criminal investigation into the deaths of tourists on a volcanic island where a powerful eruption of ash and scalding steam occurred as dozens of people were exploring the barren landscape. 

Six deaths are confirmed and eight other people are feared dead, but unstable conditions on White Island were preventing a direct search for them. 

Authorities in New Zealand said the sixth death happened after the person was being treated at a hospital. 

Police Deputy Commissioner John Tims did not go into details of the criminal investigation but said it would sit alongside an investigation by health and safety regulators. The announcement indicates authorities are concerned safety standards may have been breached.

Survivors of the eruption ran into the sea to escape the scalding steam and ash and emerged covered in burns. That's according to those who first helped them.

The accounts Tuesday came as some relatives were forced to continue waiting for news of their loved ones, with authorities deciding it remained too dangerous for crews to land on the island and remove bodies.  

RELATED: Incredible images: Deadly New Zealand volcano erupts

Questions have been raised about why tourists were allowed to visit White lsland, located about 29 miles off the coast of country's north island, due to recent seismic activity. Scientists noted an uptick in volcanic activity on the island, and the GeoNet agency said a moderate eruption did occur, and the organization elevated the alert level to four. Five represents a major eruption on their scale.

TEGNA Staff contributed to this report.