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Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 14:53 GMT
Etna state of emergency declared
Satellite image showing smoke drifting to Tunisia
The plume of smoke from Etna has reached Africa
The Italian Government has declared a state of emergency in parts of Sicily, after a series of earthquakes accompanying the eruption of Mount Etna forced about 1,000 people flee their homes.

Man with ruined home in Santa Severina
The earthquake damaged hundreds of homes
The rate of lava flow was slowing on Wednesday, raising hopes that the worst of the current eruption might be over.

But scientists say the risk of further earthquakes cannot be ruled out.

More earth tremors were detected on Wednesday morning, but none reached the magnitude of Tuesday's quake which measured 4.3 on the Richter scale.

"The volcano... hasn't reached a stable erupting state but we are starting to see that everything seems more calm," said Enzo Boschi, director of the national geophysics institute.

Open in new window : In pictures
Etna rumbles on
He said one of Etna's two lava flows had almost stopped and the other had slowed.

Tuesday's earthquake damaged more than 100 homes in Santa Venerina, and holiday hotels were requisitioned to accommodate the displaced families.

A ship equipped with a medical clinic aboard was positioned off Catania - to the south of the volcano - to be ready in case of emergency, a civil defence official said.

Glow from Etna on Tuesday
Experts say the eruption is slowing

"We are concerned and we are trying to find out... if we can expect even more worrying developments," Italy's European Affairs Minister Rocco Butiglione told AFP news agency.

The state of emergency was declared by a cabinet meeting in Rome.

The two streams of lava have been flowing down the volcano - one on the northern side and one to the south - since it began erupting on Sunday.

Residential areas are not threatened but tourist facilities have been swallowed up, and acres of pine forest have been consumed by fire.

Etna is a popular skiing area, and the season would normally be beginning soon.

Ski lifts on the southern side of the volcano were swamped by lava last year.

Those on the northern slopes have already been damaged by this latest eruption.

Injuries

Emergency workers have been digging channels in the earth in an attempt to divert the northern flow away from the town of Linguaglossa.

Schools in the town have been shut down, although the church has remained open for people to pray.

Villagers also continued their tradition of parading their patron saint through the streets to the railway station, to try to ward off the lava flow.

Apart from Santa Venerina, Tuesday's earthquake also affected the villages of Giarre, and Zafferana Etnea.

Some residents slept in their cars on Tuesday night to avoid the risk of becoming trapped if a worst quake struck.

Civil defence official Enrico Galeani said some people had been slightly injured.

The airport outside the city of Catania remained closed on Wednesday for a fourth day.

Restaurant swallowed

Ash has been falling continuously on the city, and drifting across the Mediterranean as far as Libya.

Europe's biggest and most active volcano has been throwing magma more than 100 metres (330 feet) into the air, in a spectacular display.

Mount Etna has had four major eruptions in the last 309 years.

Vulcanologists have warned that it is gradually becoming more explosive and more dangerous.

Etna is almost constantly rumbling, but had not erupted since July and August last year, which experts described as one of the most erratic and complex displays in 300 years.

Its last big eruption was in 1992.


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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Willey
"The latest tremors caused panic across a wide area"
See also:

27 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
29 Aug 01 | Europe
27 Jul 01 | Europe
01 Apr 00 | Science/Nature
31 Mar 00 | Science/Nature
15 Mar 00 | Europe
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