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Man injured in Hawaii 'lava bomb' says he could have been killed

Darryl Clinton was protecting a neighbor's home from fires caused by eruptions when he was struck by a "lava bomb" that shattered his leg.
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A man injured by a "lava bomb" that shattered his leg amid the eruptions near Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on Saturday says he’s lucky to be alive, and had the debris hit anywhere else he could have been killed.

Darryl Clinton was struck by a piece of rock and lava as he was on the third-floor balcony of a home he was protecting in the Puna district, where open fissures and lava flows have destroyed more than two dozen homes in an eruptive period that began more than two weeks ago.

The impact of the so-called lava bomb threw Clinton against a wall. "The worst impact I’ve ever had in my life," Clinton told NBC News Tuesday from his bed at a hospital in Hilo. "I mean, just so much force."

Clinton said that many of the rocks launched from the exploding fissures have an arcing trajectory with plenty of time to move. But this one "was a direct line-drive, as if it came out of a rifle barrel. It just went straight," he said.

"It was a mean one," Clinton said. "And I mean, it could have hit anywhere else and it would have been all over."

A friend dragged him to the ground floor and put Clinton into her truck, she called 911 and met up with fire crews, he said. At one point "I thought I was going to bleed to death," Clinton said.

Clinton was the first person to suffer a serious injury since the eruptive period began early this month. No deaths have been reported in the volcanic eruptions or lava flows.

Clinton said that after he was struck, he fell into a chair that was on fire from the lava. His foot was hanging from his ankle "like a hinge," but the prognosis is good and he was told he won’t be able to put any weight on his leg for around six weeks. The home is still standing, but it suffered some damage, he said.

The Kilauea volcano East Rift Zone eruption has been going on since 1983, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It ranks among one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, the agency says. The current eruptive phase and lava have forced around 2,000 people to evacuate.

Also Tuesday, officials said lava flow has slowly entered the property of a geothermal energy conversion plant in Puna. And lava from the fissures — there are now more than 20 — have crossed a coastal highway and entered the ocean, creating a condition called "laze," or plumes made up of a mix of hydrochloric acid gas, steam, and tiny volcanic glass particles.

Hawaii County civil defense said that lava has destroyed an old warehouse at the geothermal plant. The plant was shut down earlier this month shortly after Kilauea began spewing lava on May 3.

Officials earlier this month removed 50,000 gallons of stored flammable gas from the plant to reduce the chance of explosions.

An explosive eruption at Kilauea’s summit occurred on May 17, sending a plume of ash about 30,000 feet into the sky that began raining on a nearby town.

There have been other eruptions at the summit since, including one at 3:45 a.m. Tuesday local time (9:45 a.m. ET) that resulted in an ash plume that reached a height of around 8,000 feet, civil defense said.

Geologists say it remains unclear how long the eruptions will last, NBC affiliate KHNL reported.

The impact to tourism on Hawaii's Big Island are already being felt. Cancellations from May through July have hit at least $5 million, Ross Birch, executive director of the island's tourism board, told the Associated Press last week.