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Mt. Etna Eruption Blackens Sky

Smoke from the Sicilian volcano is seen as far away as Libya. No villages are in danger.

October 29, 2002|From Associated Press

CATANIA, Sicily — Mt. Etna spewed columns of ash that blackened skies as far away as Africa on Monday as lava streamed down its slopes. The magma set a pine forest on fire and led officials to divert flights to the other side of this Italian island.

The air was thick and dirty over eastern Sicily, and on Malta, an island 125 miles south of the volcano, ash blackened parked cars and dirtied laundry hanging from balconies. Satellite photos showed that the ash was carried as far as Libya in North Africa, 350 miles south of Etna.

From as deep as three miles, the volcano coughed up flaming stone that soared more than 300 feet into the air. Lava flowed down the mountain, but experts said Monday that villages were in no immediate danger.

Flights were diverted to Palermo, on Sicily's northwest coast, because ash hampered vision and left runways slippery at Catania's airport, the only large such facility in eastern Sicily.

Sicily asked the Italian government to declare a state of emergency, and state TV said soldiers might be sent in to join civil defense workers.

Many of Catania's 350,000 residents carried umbrellas against the black ash. Authorities banned motorcycles because of the slippery, ash-covered roads, and Catanians were allowed to ride buses for free, a step to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

Meanwhile, fires raged in a pine forest near Piano Provenzana on the northern side of Etna. Firefighters using helicopters and planes tried to douse the flames. Some of the trees caught fire because of the extreme heat even before the lava reached them.

Etna, which is 10,990 feet high, had its last major eruption in 1992. It began rumbling Sunday after more than 100 small quakes shook the eastern edge of Sicily and parts of mainland Italy.

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