PUNA, HAWAII - May, 26, 2018
Speaking to media from his Hilo Medical Center hospital bed, Darryl Clinton – the first person to be seriously injured by the current volcanic activity on the lower East Rift Zone of Kilauea – had a story to tell.
- It started out on Mother’s Day, being awoken by a jet engine noise off the lanai about 200 yards on the other side of the road I live in. I walked out on the lanai and saw the vapors from the jet coming out of the ground. Then eventually steam and then initial eruption with the flames and rocks flying and so from that point on the fissure vent which was called number 17 started progressing downward and a little ways uphill from where I live along the side of the road.
It was somewhat like a propane tube that had jets with the flames would come out of each one. Then it was capped off at the end and sometimes it blown out and vapors and rocks and mushroom clouds flat out of that.
So from then that point for up until this happened, myself and various other people stayed around the site to keep the house from burning down, because these vents were locked, launching lava bombs all over the area and several of them were hitting the rooftop getting in between the sheet metal and the ceiling and the purlins and reigniting, setting the house on fire. So we were putting those fires out as they happened. It was a big event in front row seats to view lava for several people who all helped out, I wasn't the only one here doing this.
One night the SO2 got so heavy that everyone had to leave. We had a fire at the Johanna house, we went down there and put it out and on my way back a big cloud swept in and I took one inhale and there was no air in it, so we got to get out of here! We drove out of there, and it happened during the daytime the next day, but for the most part someone was always there, putting out these fires.
The day this happened the lava bombs had waned to a point where they weren't even really happening, they weren't hitting the house - they were still shooting, but they were going in other directions. There was a one mean nasty vent down low, that was had been a problem the whole time and it shot up a lava bomb instead of straight up it shot it in a horizontal direction right between the roof and the handrail of the lanai and it hit me as I was talking on the phone in my ankle, snapped my leg in half, tore my ankle and foot and my leg were a hinge. It knocked me down onto the couch which caught on fire from the flaming rock.
I jumped off onto the floor, trying to hold my leg together. My friend was on the roof next to me and I said: “We got to get out of here, we got to get out of here!” She grabbed me by my right leg, dragged me down five flights of stairs to the ground, got her truck, called 911, drove us back toward the emergency vehicles, and they met us halfway.
The fire department initially helped me get out of the car. The ambulance came, put me in the ambulance, trying to stabilize things as good as possible, brought me here (Hilo Medical Center hospital) and they've been taking care of me ever since.
- I want to backtrack just before the injury, because you just gave us a little taste of it. As a spectator how spectacular was it from front-row seat?
- Oh it was incredible! I mean it was just an event of a lifetime! “Every aspect of the lava was there, you know, the sounds, the sights, the flowing lava, the aa [a type of lava flow], the fissures. It was all happening at one time!” There were several people that had access, they were coming over and watching it from that point. It was fun!
- Who was there when it happened?
- Just me and my friend, she's my friend now. It's actually my ex-wife but she's my friend… now, huh uh. We’ve become friends since then yeah, huhuhuh
- You mentioned that the lava bombs had hit your house as it were coming on fire. Obviously you've seen them, and they were bombarding your house so to speak. Talk about your thoughts of your own safety, concerns you might have had, because you were so close.
- Well, we all have been around this activity before, and so we're not accustomed to. We know how lava to some degree, how slow it moves. You can crawl away from, so there's no real fear of the lava. The projectiles, there's a fear but when you hear… They don't just happen, there's an explosion and then they happen, so when you hear an explosion, you're looking up. They're typically way up there and they're flying.
Usually they're heavy and then they get lighter as they fizzle out and the wind will catch them much like a golf ball, it'll push it away. Then a lot of times they'll hit the ground, but it's like catching a football or a baseball when you're on the run. You know how you got to kind of watch it, and instead of catching it you don't catch it and it falls away from you.
There're all kinds of places that you can hide and get away from it too. So it wasn't brave or whatever you might think.
- What does it feel like to be hit by lava? Was it solid or liquid?
- It was that the most forceful impact I've ever had in my body in my life. I've been hit by big waves and various things, that was just incredibly powerful and hot, it burnt you.
It was super painful and I don't know if I was in shock, I just think about my daughters and I knew I was upon that roof.
I was in really bad shape, I mean my leg was in half, my bone was sticking out. There was blood squirting out. I knew that I had to get out of there and if I couldn't pass out I had to get out of there.
My friend got a shirt and she pulled it as tight as she could. Then we had this old wet shirt that her dog had been sleeping on, and so we wrapped that around leg and that's when I held my shoe and my ankle together with my leg. Well we're coming down the stairs each tread I'd hit… my foot… would… It was really weird. Really strange!
My toes wiggle - the doctors did an amazing job! I can't believe they could put it back together! I just wanted to live... I didn't care if they cut my leg off down there or not.
I just can't believe that's there!
-Do you have any thoughts on the future of Puna? Are you living in Puna?
- I think that area will be safe for quite some time now, so we're gonna stay. There won't be any traffic anymore because there’s no road to drive. The houses there are on a hill and we’re safe right there. There was really no reason to go.
I mean that thing things happen every day to people, just in an instant, so it's just an event that was super spectacular that the news wants to cover how it happened to me.
You could get hurt bad just any time.
-Based on this happening to you, your recommendation or advice for anybody else who's down there and maybe should not be?
- Like anything else, if you're going surfing and in certain conditions or anything else don't tempt fate, just be safe. If you feel calm, you feel comfortable and you're aware and you're capable by all means it's fun.
-You mentioned that you were there trying to make sure that your house was okay because of the lava bombs and because everything that was going on there. After you left it, have you heard how your house is doing?
- It's all good, my neighbor's right there. He was as helpful as I was and protecting everything that seemed like I might get like getting all this credit for things but he was right there the whole time. So my friend too, she was there the whole time, lots of people helped out, the media was there a few times, help put some fires out.
- They told you should be able to walk?
- Six weeks stay off of it. You just get an injury you got to gradually progress.
- When you had seen how bad your leg was, when they put you in and you went in for surgery did you think when you came that you wouldn't have a foot?
- No, actually the doctor really top-notch guy, made me real confident the first night when I went in, that he's going to fix it all up. Actually two of the doctors showed up and they gave me a lot of confidence.
- Have you been in pain?
- Not anymore. The staff here has done a tremendous job and helped me up. Smiling faces and not to care.
-So they brought you into the emergency room and they just took care of your foot, made sure that you were okay and then the next day they went into the surgery to make sure everything was still attached?
-In the first night they put the titanium rod and the nails and screws in and then cleaned it. Second day clean because there was a lot of lava rock left in there and you can't get it all out at one time. I think there's a certain limitation to how long you could be under anesthesia and so there's a point where you just can't do anymore.
- Everybody knows you now! You're the most famous Clinton now!
- Wow! I’m taking some of the pressure off Hillary!