4.8 quake hits area near Sicily’s Mount Etna

A 4.8-magnitude earthquake struck Wednesday in the area near Europe's most active volcano Mount Etna, injuring several people, damaging buildings and forcing the partial closure of a highway, Italian civil protection authorities said.

4.8 quake hits area near Sicily's Mount Etna

Two people were rescued from a collapsed building and around 10 were taken to hospital suffering light injuries from falling debris.

One elderly woman suffered multiple fractures, while 18 other people made their way to hospital on their own to be treated for minor cuts and shock.

The region consists mainly of small farm towns and vineyards.

The quake was the region's strongest since Mount Etna erupted on Monday, spewing ash and forcing the temporary closure of Sicilian airspace.

The national institute for geophysics and vulcanology (INGV) said the quake hit at 3:18 am at a depth of 1.2 kilometres.

Despite the partial closure of a coastal highway, an airport at the provincial capital Catania was still operating.

The epicentre was located north of Catania, where several families spent the night in the streets.

The quake toppled the belltower of the Santa Maria Santissima del Carmelo church in Acireale, including its statue of Saint Emidio, traditionally believed to protect against earthquakes.

Monday's eruption occurred on the side of Mount Etna, the first lateral eruption in a decade.

The INGV said it has recorded 60 tremors higher than 2.5 since then. 

Mount Etna is 3,300 metres (10,800 feet) high, and has erupted regularly over the past 2,700 years.

The most recent eruptions occurred in early 2017 and its last major eruption was in the northern hemisphere's winter of 2008-2009.

At the end of March, a study published in the Bulletin of Volcanology said Etna was slowly sliding towards the Mediterranean — at a constant pace of 14 millimetres per year.

The INGV said that the quake's epicentre was almost exactly where a 6.3-magnitude quake hit on February 20, 1818.

Italian authorities have now stepped up surveillance on the volcanic island of Stromboli, part of the Aeolian islands northeast of Sicily, which began spewing bits of lava on Tuesday.

Specialists believe the two events are likely related.


Island of Vulcano in Sicily on alert for increased volcanic activity

Italy's Civil Protection issued an "amber alert" for the island of Vulcano in Sicily's Aeolian archipelago on Saturday, on the back of significant changes in several volcanic parameters.

A tourist walks in the fumaroles of a crater on the volcanic island of Vulcano in Italy.
A tourist walks in the fumaroles of a crater on the volcanic island of Vulcano, one of the Aeolian Islands, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy, on September 19th, 2019. VALERY HACHE / AFP

“The values are outside the norm in the top part only in the Vulcano crater,” said Lipari mayor Marco Giogianni in a live broadcast on Facebook, following a meeting with experts from the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV) and Civil Protection, Italy’s emergency body.

Marco Pistolesi, a vulcanology professor at the University of Pisa, also tweeted about the change in the alert level, referring to “increased degassing, temperatures, seismicity and deformation”.

“For those who know the island, this has never been observed before,” he wrote.

The last eruption on Vulcano was over 130 years ago and lasted from August 2nd, 1888 to March 22nd, 1890.

It has been still since then, but this “sleep” is sometimes disturbed by seismic activity crises and increases in steaming volcanic gas emissions from vents (fumaroles) – the most recent was in 1985, Italian daily Corriere Della Sierra reported late Saturday.

The mayor was expected to issue an order to prevent people from climbing to the top of the crater at around 500 metres, a 40-minute walk, the paper said.

The population of the island is always at risk due to gas-rich, high-temperature fumaroles, but with increased activity, there is a danger that the fumaroles could  intensify and extend over larger areas.