1924 Explosive Eruptions - Casualties
Anyone who becomes interested in Hawai`i’s volcanoes soon learns of the fatality of Truman Taylor, a bookkeeper at a local sugar plantation, during an explosive eruption on May 18, 1924.
He and several others drove in cars to the end of the road near the edge of the crater Halema`uma`u. He and another man, Ted Dranga, walked off toward the crater while the others decided to remain close to the cars. The two men eventually separated.
At 11:07 am a mass of dark gray ash shot upward from the crater and rolled out from the edge of the crater. Both Taylor and Dranga were engulfed in it. Those near the cars were also soon surrounded by the ash and caught in a shower of mud and falling rocks. Dranga was seen running toward the cars. When he reached the others, he said that he had not seen Taylor. The explosion had abated, and a search party of four went to look for the missing man.
One of the searchers heard him calling for help. He was found face down unable to walk. He was carried back to the cars. First aid was given at the nearby Kilauea Military Camp. Taylor was then driven in an army truck to a hospital in Hilo. He died that night.
The story of a casualty the previous day is less known.
Explosive activity on May 12, 1924
Hilo was a popular destination of cruise ships in 1924 and many of the passengers took advantage of the stop to make a day-trip to see Kilauea.
The round-the-world steamer Empress of Canada arrived with more than three hundred passengers on May 16. The next day many of them rode in taxis or buses to the summit of Kilauea. At the time, as it was recorded, “there was no fire, no flow, only the ghostly, twirling smoke” rising from Halema`uma`u.
Many of the new visitors walked to the bluff at Uwekahuna were the modern volcano observatory and museum are located today. Only a quiet cloud of steam was rising from the crater. Several started down the terraces. More followed. At 12:02 pm, with no warning, a roaring noise came from deep inside the crater. Within seconds, a black cloud filled with ash and rocks shot out. The passengers now ran through a hail of falling stones. The fortunate ones survived only covered and caked with mud. Several were hurt and required medical attention, including the ship’s captain who had been hit twice on the head by flying rocks.
To complete the account of casualties in 1924, on May 13, three days after explosive eruptions had begun, the park superintendent, Thomas Boles, was standing with six other people at the edge of Halema`uma`u filming a movie for the Interisland Steam Navigation Company. During the filming, an explosion came up from the crater. Boles would remember rocks ricocheting around him as he ran from the crater’s edge. He was knocked down twice by a barrage of flying rocks. As he ran to get away, he was severely cut and lacerated by the force of his falls, his left leg badly twisted and cut. Afterwards, he remained in bed for three days from the shock of his ordeal.