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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 12:07 GMT
In pictures: Etna menace
A thick river of lava, which was threatening to engulf a tourist hostel on the southern slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, has stopped just metres away from the building.

"It is too early to celebrate because the volcano is unpredictable," a local official said. "But for now we can breathe and wait."

Up to five earthquakes rocked the region on Sunday, prompting residents to flee their homes.

Europe's most active volcano began erupting at the end of October, leading to the declaration of a state of emergency in eastern Sicily.

A photographer takes an aerial picture of the smoke rising from Mount Etna
A blast of gas and lava created a small new crater on Monday, but the volcano was generally calmer

Sapienza refuge
The lava stopped short of the hostel, located at an altitude of 2,100 metres (6,800 ft)

Mount Etna
The main river of lava has branched out and is cooling down

Rescue worker
The authorities, however, have said they will remain on alert

Mount Etna
Relief workers used bulldozers to build a high wall of earth to protect the hostel

Mount Etna
Tourist facilities on the volcano's south-east flank have already been evacuated

Mount Etna
Last month, an eruption caused tremors which forced the evacuation of 1,000 local residents

See also:

06 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
30 Oct 02 | Europe
27 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
29 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
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