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Sunday, January 11, 1998 Published at 15:17 GMT


Mount Etna 'ready to erupt again'
image: [ Experts fear that Mount Etna is about to erupt ]
Experts fear that Mount Etna is about to erupt

Italy's leading volcano expert says that a series of more than 100 small earthquakes around Sicily's Mount Etna in less than two days could be a prelude to its first significant eruption in six years.

Franco Barberi, undersecretary at the civil protection department in Rome, said that the number of earthquakes and the amount of volcanic activity around Etna, Europe's tallest and most active volcano, was increasing.

Instruments have registered some 130 earthquakes in the area in the last two days, including one which reached 3.8 on the Richter scale and rocked eastern Sicily on Saturday morning.

That quake was felt along most of the coast. "The craters of the volcano have been in activity in the past months and the pressure caused by this seismic activity might be released," Barberi told Italian radio.

Barberi said a "proper eruption" would follow if a big fissure opened at the top of the volcano or on one of its lower slopes.

[ image:  ]
There has been minor visible eruptive activity on Etna since January 3 when two small lava flows, mostly visible at night, began oozing from small fissures on the mountain. They have coincided with minor explosions.

Barberi said the higher the altitude of the eventual eruption, the less likely it was to threaten villages on the lower slopes of the 10,900 feet (3,300 metre) volcano.

Etna's last significant eruption was in 1992 when two streams of lava threatened the village of Zafferana. Italian and US military diverted the lava flow away from the village with spectacular man-made explosions on the volcano's slopes until the eruption subsided.

The civil protection department in Rome said its staff and volunteers in the Etna area had been put on alert in case an eruption made it necessary to evacuate villagers.

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