Explosive eruptions do not generally come to mind when people think of Hawai‘i’s volcanoes. Their eruptions are typically characterized by the relatively quiet outflow of very fluid lava and by sometimes spectacular lava fountains.
Hawai‘i’s volcanoes have therefore become the textbook example of nonexplosive volcanism, and the term “Hawaiian type” is used to refer to such eruptions. Eruptions at Kilauea can often be observed safely at close range. (USGS)
The late 1780s were years of great strife on the Island of Hawai’i. Kamehameha, who later became the first king of the Hawaiian Islands, was at war with his rival Keōua. After one of several indecisive battles, probably in 1790, the balance was suddenly tipped in favor of Kamehameha when a natural disaster struck.
As a large group of Keōua’s warriors traveling with their families passed the crater of Kilauea Volcano, there was a sudden explosive eruption of searingly hot ash and gas. At least 80 and perhaps hundreds of people were killed in the deadliest historical eruption to occur in what is now the United States. (USGS)
During 18 days in May 1924, hundreds of steam explosions from Kilauea hurled mud, debris, and hot rocks weighing as much as 8 tons as far as two-thirds of a mile from the center of Halema‘uma‘u the current crater within the larger volcanic depression (caldera) at Kilauea’s summit.
Columns of volcanic ash and dust rose more than 2 miles into the air, at times turning day into night at the town of Pahala, nearly 20 miles downwind.
Only one person was killed during this eruption, a photographer who ventured too close and was struck by falling rocks and hot mud. (USGS)
The largest explosive event in 1924, on May 18, ejected blocks toward the southeast, including the eight-ton block, and killed Truman Taylor. (Pacific Parks)
Taylor Stearns notes in his autobiography, “[WO] Clark told me how he had brought Taylor, a clerk about twenty-seven years old from Pahala [he worked on the C. Brewer plantation], up to the volcano. Miss Bradfield, the local nurse, and her companion [Miss Peck] had been with them.”
“Taylor had borrowed Clark’s camera and tripod to take a close-up shot. [When the explosion began, Ted] Dranga and the two nurses ran to the Essex car nearby, which they had left running so as to make escape easy [those were the days of hand cranks].”
“When they reached the car the [others] wanted to start right away but Miss Bradfield said she didn’t want to leave with Taylor out there. She made them wait a minute, and then as the stones began to fall around them she decided it would be better to leave Taylor than for all to be killed.”
Per, “Ruy Finch, in the HVO journal: 10:36 a.m. With L.A. Thurston and W.O. Clark of Pahala. Large puffs of steam; rumbling, earthquake. Went to sand spit above Algae [an area of algae growing on the south-facing cliff, then known as the Italian cliff, that forms the south side of what is now known as Sand Spit] and sat down on a boulder which had been ejected at 12:30 p.m.”
“May 17. Numerous quakes and rumbling. Sent T. Dranga Jr., to get Thurston who was with Carlsmiths. A wave of increased air pressure that decidedly hurt my head, was felt at 11:09 a.m. Jumped and exclaimed, ‘Here comes a terrible one.’”
“The air pressure was felt several seconds before rocks appeared and two or three seconds before the explosion cloud cleared the rim. Started to take picture but saw rocks of great dimensions high in the air headed toward our locality.”
“Ran to cliff and slid down a wash. A rock, judging from its air appearance to have weighed over 300 lbs [135 kg] cleared the cliff and landed on 1921 lava. Left Thurston, Clark and ladies of Carlsmith party on cliff.”
“O Emerson in the afternoon reported a 10-ton rock on airplane landing-field [on Sand Spit], found while searching for possible killed or wounded soldiers. Two men were seen on rim of pit a short time before 11:09 a.m. explosion.”
“TA Dranga Sr. came across crater floor but said that Mr. Truman Taylor of Pahala, who was with him on the way up to crater, had left him 10 minutes before the explosion”
“Went back to find missing man with Clark, Dranga Jr. and Dranga Sr. Taylor was discovered with legs crushed by fallen bowlders about 125 feet from old parking place.”
“Dranga Sr. started to get car seat, to use as stretcher, when another explosion came. Dranga Jr. and I carried Taylor to road where he was put into car.” (USGS)
“Truman A Taylor, bookkeeper at Pahala, died at 11:30 o’clock last night [May 18, 1924] at Hilo Hospital from hemorrhage and shock. One leg had been amputated at the ankle after it had been crushed by a shower of rocks from the volcano.”
“Taylor was found shortly before noon yesterday by an unidentified man who heard screams. He was covered by burning ash, and both legs were crushed.”
“First aid was given by Capt PK McKenzie, surgeon at Kilauea Military Camp and the injured man was rushed in Army ambulance, accompanied by Miss Molly Thomas, Hilo nurse, to Hilo Hospital.”
“Taylor was from Chicago, and had been in Pahala about two months, after a stay of three weeks in Honolulu. He wore a tag bearing the legend, ‘USA 3422044.’” (SB, May 19, 1924)