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SERVICES 
Monday, 30 July, 2001, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
Lava halts outside prayer town
Etna eruption
Etna has produced more specular showers of ash
Hopes are rising that the Sicilian town of Nicolosi could escape being devastated by lava from Mount Etna.

The lava flow heading for the town appears to have stopped its advance around 4km (two miles) outside the town.

Emergency workers are still battling to protect other areas - including a railway and tourist area - which remain under threat.

Sicilian mass
Sicilians gathered on Sunday to pray for deliverance
The spectacular eruption continued on Monday, forcing officials to again close the airport in Catania for part of the day. Lava continues to pour, at 1,000 degrees Celsius, from fissures in the mountainside.

"We have found a couple of new lava streams today but neither poses immediate danger to any settlements," an official told Reuters news agency.

The head of Italy's civil protection agency, Francesco Barberi, says computer simulations being prepared by experts cannot keep up with Etna.

He said new simulations would be prepared to focus on Nicolosi.

Eruption
Hundreds have flocked to the extraordinary show
Residents gathered on the mountainside on Sunday to pray for their homes to be spared.

"The warmer our prayers, the colder the lava," said a local archbishop, Luigi Bonmarito, who led the service.

"We are here to implore the Madonna to give us the faith, the hope and the courage to confront our difficulties," he said, amid the sounds of continuing explosions from Etna.

Bulldozers

Although Nicolosi now appears to be safe, a tourist base at Rifugio Sapienza, halfway up the mountain, remains under threat.

Bulldozers have been used to create huge walls of earth, and officials said on Monday the lava was being successfully diverted.

Parts of a ski lift and a car park have already been lost.


If human technology can't keep the lava back, the Eternal Father is our only salvation

Local resident
Sunday's open-air mass was attended by thousands of people, who gathered at a shrine at Belpasso where Mary is reputed to have once appeared.

In Nicolosi itself, worshippers also packed the church of Santa Maria della Grazi and laid flowers at the shrine of St Anthony, the town's patron saint.

"Local people still believe in miracles," said Gianbattista Martinazoli, a local teacher. "If human technology can't keep the lava back, the Eternal Father is our only salvation."

The Italian Government has pledged tax breaks for villagers to help get through the crisis and more than $8m (5.6m) in immediate financial assistance.


Vulcanologists say they cannot predict when Etna will end its spectacular show.

Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology says the eruption could go on for weeks.

Police have been turning back crowds of tourists who are flocking up the mountain to watch the eruptions.

"I can't express my feelings. It's one of the most powerful things I've ever seen. It's deeply beautiful and impressive. You feel so much force beneath," said Giuseppe di Rienzo from Rome.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Valerie Jones
"It's natures most spectacular firework display"
See also:

27 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Etna from space
22 Jul 01 | Europe
In pictures: Etna in action
27 Jul 01 | Europe
Etna: The stuff of myths
01 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Why volcanoes explode
31 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Etna hoops it up
15 Mar 00 | Europe
Living with a volcano
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