CASTELBUONO, Sicily (CN) — Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, is threatening to cause a dangerous lava flow and possibly another earthquake, experts warned on Thursday as the region declared a state of emergency.
Etna erupted on Christmas Eve, spewing giant clouds of smoke and ash onto nearby cities, towns and vineyards in the busy coastal corridor of eastern Sicily.
The eruption was followed Wednesday by a 4.8 magnitude earthquake that caused extensive damage, cracking homes, churches and roads. About 1,000 tremors were felt, La Stampa newspaper reported, and thousands of people were sleeping on the streets. No deaths were reported. About 600 people were declared homeless as a result of the damage.
Italy’s two political leaders, Deputy Premier Luigi di Maio, the leader of the 5-Star Movement, and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League party, were expected to visit the hard-hit area Thursday. The region of Sicily called a state of emergency.
There’s a danger that Etna could erupt at a lower elevation, causing a lava flow threatening inhabited areas. As of Thursday, the volcano appeared to be calming down.
Boris Behncke, a volcanologist at the Etna Observatory at Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, said on Wednesday night through his Facebook page that there was little left of Monday’s lava eruption and that seismic activity was calming.
Still, there’s always a lot of uncertainty about what is happening in the belly of this volcano.
Behncke said it was possible this eruption could become more active again and even for a lava flow to open up at a lower elevation.
About 1 million people live on the flanks or in the shadow of the volcano, many of them in Catania, Sicily’s second-largest city. Catania is an ancient city and many of its buildings are constructed from black lava stone. It lies only about 18 miles from Etna’s summit.
Etna is one of the most monitored volcanoes in the world, in no small part because of its potential dangers.
Scientists say the volcano is slowly being pulled into the Ionian Sea and this gradual movement likely will cause more eruptions and earthquakes, similar to those of this week. The grimmest scenario is a catastrophic collapse of the volcano’s southeast flank, but scientists say there is no evidence of that occurring any time soon.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)