How serious is the current Etna eruption

01:00 Mon 23rd Jul 2001 |

asks A dryley:
The volcano, which has been active for hundreds of years, started rumbling about a month ago and has been gushing smoke and ash for more than a week now. Five fissures have opened up and lava has started crawling down the southern slope.

Q. How much lava
According to eye witnesses, there are fountains of orange lava shooting as high as 300 foot in the air and the lava flow is more than a thousand feet wide. The lava has already ruined some of the chairlifts on the volcano (it's a popular skiing resort, but experts claim that it'll be too hot for snow this winter).

Along with the lava come smoke and ash, swirling 1,500 feet above the top of Mt Etna.

Q. Is anyone in its path
Apart from a few hundred disaster-tourists who have rushed here to witness the event At the moment, the magma is just over two miles from the village of Nicolosi, which is halfway up the southern slopes, and has a population of 5,000.

Q How fast is it moving
Fairly slowly now, and it's heading towards a shallow basin above the village which may slow it further.

Q. What are the villagers doing
Praying a lot. According to legend, in 1886 a wave of lava was diverted by the local archbishop holding up a statue of Saint Anthony.

They are also being kept awake at night because of the sound of the volcano.

Q. Enough to make anyone nervous...
A. Quite. Security forces are ready to evacuate Nicolosi when necessary, but officials have reassured the villagers that they're not in danger yet.

Q. How long is it since the last scare on Etna
Nine years ago, the lava was heading towards Zafferana, a town of 7,000 people on Etna's lower slopes. The flow was diverted by controlled explosions.

Update 26/7: A new fissure is allowing lava to pour out towards an unihabited valley in the east, weakening the flow which has been threatening Nicolosi. Officials say that the eruption activity is diminishing, but experts warn that Etna is still highly unpredictable.

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By Sheena Miller

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