Mount Etna: 4.8-magnitude earthquake jolts Sicily

A collapsed building in the Sicilian port city of Catania.
 A collapsed building in the Sicilian port city of Catania. Mount Etna is Europe’s most active volcano. Photograph: AFP/Getty

An ongoing eruption of Mount Etna, Europe’s biggest and most active volcano, has triggered a 4.8-magnitude earthquake that injured four people and damaged buildings in the early hours of Wednesday.

The quake was the biggest since the volcano came to life again on Monday with hundreds of small and medium tremors and causing lava spewing from a new fissure. The resulting ash cloud led to the temporary closure of Sicilian airspace on Christmas Eve.

The Italian national institute for geophysics and volcanology (INGV) said the quake, which struck at 3.19am, was 1km deep. The epicentre was to the north of the port city of Catania and the damage caused several families to spend the night in the streets.

Four people sustained light injuries, officials said, and two people were rescued from a collapsed building. Frightened residents rushed out of their homes as the tremors hit. In the small town of Pennisi, in the province of Catania, a statue of Sant’Emidio, a protector against earthquakes, collapsed in the main square.

Monday’s eruption occurred on the side of Mount Etna and was the first lateral eruption in a decade. The 3,300-metre volcano has erupted frequently in the past 2,700 years. Its most recent occurred in spring 2017, and its last big eruption in early 2009.

Experts from INGV, who were summoned to an emergency meeting on Wednesday morning, said they were closely monitoring the situation and would release further details during the day.

Marco Neri, an expert in volcanology and a member of INGV, said: “The recent seismic activity caused by the ongoing eruption is not unusual but potentially dangerous.”

Gaetano Maenza, a member of the Italian professional association of nature and interpretive guide, who lives in a town a few miles from the volcano, told the Guardian: “Tremors during eruptions are pretty normal here. What is unusual is the level of magnitude triggered by Etna. I have no memory of such intensity. It was scary.”

An increase in seismic activity this month has also shaken the area around Vesuvius, the large volcano in the Gulf of Naples. It is populated by 3 million people, making it the most densely populated volcanic region in the world.

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