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Volcanic Ash Rains Down in Sicily

July 24, 2001

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CATANIA, Sicily (AP) _ Two new fractures on the side of Mount Etna have slowed the lava flowing out of the Italian volcano, but officials said Tuesday the spectacular bursts of ash and lava aren’t over yet.

The fractures eased the pressure on the volcano’s main opening, which has been spewing molten magma in the direction of the town of Nicolosi for more than a week, the National Institute of Geophysics said Tuesday.

``The situation is more static,″ said Paolo Madonia, a geologist with the institute. ``The lava continues to be fed, but more slowly.″

While it is impossible to know exactly how the volcano will behave in the following days, it is certain the activity will continue, he said.

``For now all the instruments signal continued activity,″ he said. ``Surely, it’s not stopping _ not immediately.″

Police and firefighters were deployed in towns on the slopes. The town closest to the flow is Nicolosi, just 2 1/2 miles from the lava front.

``We’re moderately optimistic, even if it’s premature to say that Nicolosi and Rifugio Sapienza are out of danger,″ said Nicolosi Mayor Salvatore Mischetto. ``It’s too early to make predictions. First we have to wait for the vapor and gas emissions to stop.″

The director of the national civil protection force, Franco Barberi, said the volcano needed close monitoring, particularly the mouth threatening the Sapienza refuge, a tourist destination on the side of the mountain.

Ash from Europe’s most active volcano continued to cover the streets of the main Sicilian city nearby, Catania, but the airport was able to reopen after strong winds swept the black dust off the runway.

The eruption has caused $3.1 million in damage, including losses in tourism and agriculture, the local government said.

Etna, which towers 10,860 feet above Sicily, comes to life every few months. Its last major eruption was in 1992.

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