Quake from Mount Etna sets off panic in Si­cily

The Tribune (SLO) - - Insight - BY FRANCES D’EMILIO

An earth­quake trig­gered by Mount Etna’s erup­tion jolted eastern Si­cily be­fore dawn Wed­nes­day, in­jur­ing at least 10 peo­ple, dam­ag­ing churches and houses on the vol­cano’s slopes and prompt­ing pan­icked vil­lagers to flee their homes.

Italy’s Civil Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cials said the quake, which struck at 3:19 a.m., was part of a swarm of some 1,000 tremors, most of them barely per­cep­ti­ble, linked to Etna’s vol­canic erup­tion this week.

Italy’s na­tional seis­mol­ogy in­sti­tute said the quake had a mag­ni­tude of 4.8 on the open-ended Richter scale and 4.9 on the mo­ment mag­ni­tude scale, which re­lates to the amount the ground slips. It struck north of Cata­nia, the largest city in the eastern part of the Mediter­ranean is­land, but no dam­age or in­juries were re­ported there.

The quake opened up cracks in homes in sev­eral towns, send­ing chunks of con­crete de­bris tum­bling to the ground. It broke up side­walks and a stretch of high­way, forc­ing it to close. Many peo­ple spent the hours after the quake sleep­ing in their cars.

“Etna re­mains a dan­ger­ous vol­cano, and this coun­try of ours is un­for­tu­nately frag­ile,” gov­ern­ment un­der­sec­re­tary Vito Crimi said as he re­ported 10 peo­ple in­jured.

One 80-year-old man was safely ex­tracted from the rub­ble of his home, ANSA said, while a woman told state ra­dio that her sis­ter was pulled out from un­der a heavy ar­moire that had top­pled. A ceil­ing col­lapsed in an­other house, and in other homes parts of ex­te­rior walls crum­bled. Some stone walls along fields and lo­cal roads crum­bled.

Etna, the largest of Italy’s three ac­tive vol­ca­noes, has been par­tic­u­larly ac­tive since July. In re­cent days, Etna’s lat­est erup­tion has been shoot­ing vol­canic ash, heavy smoke and lava stones into the air. A new frac­ture has opened near Etna’s south­east crater, and lava has been flow­ing down an un­in­hab­ited slope.

The Civil Pro­tec­tion agency said tem­po­rary shel­ters were be­ing set up in gyms or mu­nic­i­pal build­ings for peo­ple whose houses were dam­aged or who were too fright­ened to re­turn to their homes.

Sim­i­lar vol­canic ac­tiv­ity on Etna has been ob­served many times in past decades, An­drea Billi, a ge­ol­o­gist with the state Na­tional Coun­cil of Re­search, told RaiNews24.

This kind of ac­tiv­ity “can last days or weeks,” he said, “but it’s un­pre­dictable.”

An­gelo Bor­relli, Italy’s Civil Pro­tec­tion chief, said it ap­peared the ac­tiv­ity at Etna was calm­ing down.

“From a sci­en­tific point of view, we’re deal­ing with an iso­lated event,” Bor­relli told Sky TG24 TV. “The tech­ni­cal ex­perts tell us we’re head­ing toward a cool­ing of the lava, and we ought to ex­pect a qui­es­cence of the phe­nom­e­non (of earthquake­s).”

SAL­VA­TORE ALLEGRA AP

Res­i­dents leave their homes Wed­nes­day in Fleri after an earth­quake. Many peo­ple slept in their cars.

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