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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 19:16 GMT 20:16 UK
Lava halts as Etna battle continues
Tourist centre
The lava has halted - but for how long?
Hopes have risen that emergency workers are winning their battle to save a tourist centre from destruction in Mount Etna's lava flows.

The lava flow was reported to have halted its progress towards the Rifugio Sapienza on Wednesday.

Firemen on tourist centre balcony
Firemen have edged to within feet of the lava
But officials warned that the situation remained critical, and the unpredictable lava might start moving again.

Workers have used more than 70 bulldozers in a desperate attempt to pile up enough earth to divert the lava away from the station.

"The situation is extremely critical," said Franco Barberi, head of the Italian civil protection agency.

On Tuesday, a cable car station and a ski store fell victim to the lava, which has poured from fissures in the mountainside since the dramatic eruption began two weeks ago.

Etna on Tuesday 31 July
Etna's spectacular displays have continued
A car park and part of a ski lift have already been buried.

While battling to construct defences, workers have also been making sure they have an escape route back down the mountain.

A path is being cleared so that an emergency evacuation can be carried out if necessary.

Some of the emergency workers have been battling only yards away from the lava streams.

Submerged building
Some buildings have already succumbed
They include firemen, who have climbed onto a balcony of the base's tourist office and tried to cool the lava by turning their hoses on it from a distance of only five metres (15 feet).

Their courage has been praised by the president of the region of Catania, Nello Musumeci, who said they were working in dangerous conditions.

The resort also includes a hostel, souvenir shops and restaurants.

Villages further down the mountain are not thought to be in immediate danger.

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See also:

22 Jul 01 | Europe
In pictures: Etna in action
30 Jul 01 | Europe
Lava halts outside prayer town
27 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Etna from space
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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