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Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Etna threat eases
Plume of smoke and ash rising from Mount Etna
Officials are cautiously optimistic that the danger is over
Lava flowing from Mount Etna towards a village on its southern slope has slowed, a day after the Italian Government imposed a state of emergency in the area.

Map of the area
Italian officials said that a new fissure at a height of 2,700m was allowing lava to pour out towards the east, weakening the main flow which has been threatening the 5,000 villagers of Nicolosi.

The airport at Catania, a resort at the foot of the mountain, was able to re-open on Tuesday, after a 19-hour closure and a major operation to clean up a thick layer of ash from the runway.

"There are very slight signals that eruption activity is diminishing. I am cautiously optimistic," said the prefect of Catania, Alberto di Pace.

Tremors

But experts say the volcano is highly unpredictable, making it extremely difficult to tell when the eruption will stop.

Tourists watching smoke rising from the slopes of Mount Etna
The spectacle has proved popular with tourists
Over the past 20 days there have been more than 2,500 tremors under the mountain, Europe's largest active volcano.

The current eruption is the most violent since 1992, when lava streams headed towards Zafferana, a town of 7,000 people on Etna's lower slopes.

The flow from the new fissure, one of half a dozen that have burst open, is heading towards the uninhabited Valle del Bove valley.

The government imposed a state of emergency after Nicolosi's mayor, Salvator Moschetto, threatened to call a press conference to say his community had been abandoned.

Vapour and ash

On Tuesday he said he was "slightly optimistic" that the danger was over.

"It is too early to make predictions. We'll have to wait until vapour and ash emissions stop," he said.

The lava flow approaching the village has almost stopped as it pools in a shallow basin some 4km (2.5 miles) above the village.

Some 70 families have been served with evacuation warnings.

Mount Etna is a popular winter resort, but tourism officials say snow is unlikely to settle this winter because of the extreme heat of the lava.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Brian Barron
"In terms of this eruption the worse could be over"
See also:

22 Jul 01 | Europe
In pictures: Etna in action
31 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Etna hoops it up
15 Mar 00 | Europe
Living with a volcano
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