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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Etna: Calm after the storm
Mount Etna
Etna: Smoking but calm for now
Brian Barron travels to Mount Etna to survey the aftermath of the volcano's most violent eruption for nearly a decade.

After the days and nights of Mount Etna's fury, a few defiant plumes of ash and smoke drift up from the crater, but the worst is certainly over.

Within 48 hours, the emergency authorities reckon they will be able to lift the state of emergency.

We are going to be monitoring this volcano for the next few months

Michael Burton, vulcanologist
On a roadside on the slopes below the summit, two British vulcanologists have set up the latest infrared equipment to measure gas emissions from the volcano as part of the overall Italian emergency operation.

"It was awesome watching it up close," said Michael Burton, one of the British scientists.

"We are going to be monitoring this volcano for the next few months to make sure that if anything happens we will be able to sound the alarm straight away," he added.

Diverted flow

Surveying the lava flow from a civil defence helicopter, Professor Franco Barberi, who headed the emergency operation, pointed out where the lava had been successfully diverted or brought to a halt.

The flow was stopped just four kilometres (2.4 miles) from Nicolosi, the nearest town.

He hovered over the new volcanic cone. It was here that huge clouds of ash, smoke and molten rock were propelled thousands of metres into the air.

Professor Barberi said this was the biggest eruption for nearly a decade - a dramatic display of volcanic power that caught the world's attention.

Now, he has withdrawn the convoy of bulldozers, which spent three weeks carving out diversion channels.

'You never really know'

With a professional mountain guide, we drove round the isolated northern side of Mount Etna to a point just below the main crater.

Digger on Mount Etna
Diggers were used to halt the lava flow
It is a rough road dotted with volcanic boulders thrown up in the recent eruption. We passed an abandoned observatory marooned by lava and ash.

It is only in the last couple of days that what is known as the Philosophers Summit has become accessible again.

Although Mount Etna may be quiet now, at the summit, you never really know.

Only a stone's throw away lies the huge smoking cone that was at the heart of the recent major eruption.

The BBC's Brian Barron in Sicily
"The eruption has changed the shape of the mountain"
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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