Is Etna a danger to Italy?

  • 1 Mar 2021

Etna is Europe’s most active volcano. It has erupted many times, the Catania devastation of 1699 being the worst.

( AP )

Mount Etna towers over eastern Sicily, Italy. It has never lain quiet for long: recently, in late February, it threw up volcanic bombs of more than 3,300 feet, illuminating the top of the mountain with a red flame. 

Despite being Europe’s most active volcano, Etna’s latest eruptions have caused neither injuries nor evacuations.

But each time it roars, it leaves both geologists and onlookers astounded. Geologists have spent years monitoring its every quiver, rumble and belch.

Starting on February 16, Etna has sent up high fountains of lava which have rolled down the mountain’s eastern slope where luckily, there are no human settlements. The volcano has belched out ash and lava stones that have showered the southern side.

Streams of red hot lava flow as Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, erupts, seen from Giarre, Italy, February 16, 2021.(Reuters)

It has yet to fully stop being active.

The sporadic eruptions always attract the interest of millions around the world.

Has Etna been dangerous for Italians over time?

The formation of Etna is believed to have started more than 500,000 years ago with underwater eruptions that transformed the terrain. The land gradually rose over the years - you can see the city of Catania over it.

Flames and smoke billowing from a crater, as seen from the southern side of the Mt Etna volcano, tower over the city of Pedara, Sicily, Wednesday night, Feb. 24, 2021.(AP)

Etna is an active volcano and its impact area is constantly changing. There are many old villages around it.

The slope of Etna attracts local Italians due to its fertile volcanic soil. It allows farmers to produce citrus fruits, pistachios, wine and much other produce because of the rich ground it has at its disposal.

So, has Etna caused many deaths over history? 

The first recorded eruption of Etna dates back nearly 2,500 years.

In 1669, nearly 20,000 people were killed after multiple eruptions of Etna which continued for a few weeks. Thousands were left homeless.

Lava flows from the Mt Etna volcano, near Catania in Sicily, southern Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 23 , 2021.(AP)

Many residents around Etna ignored the first signs of a larger eruption when it started to rumble and belch gas. Three days later, the volcano spewed out noxious fumes to a large area where nearly 3,000 people died from asphyxiation.

Not long after this, Etna extravasated a great amount of ash and molten lava up to 100 miles away. Lava poured down heading towards Catania, nearly 30 km away from the mountain.

Most of the 20,000 residents of Catania failed to escape from the city. For some weeks, the lava pushed towards the city and sea. 

The ancient defensive walls were the inhabitants’ only hope, however, lava quickly swallowed the walls and it is said that circa 17,000 people perished.

At the time, nearly 14 towns and villages were wiped out, and 27,000 people became homeless.

In 1843, 60 forest workers were killed in a phreatic explosion when lava moved a water reservoir. Since then, mercifully, eruptions have caused far fewer casualties.

In 1979, Italy imposed restrictions following the death of nine tourists who were at the rim of the volcano when ash, gas and rocks spewed out of the crater and struck the group.

In 1987, a French woman and her 8-year-old child were killed where they were about 450 metres away from a crater on the southeastern slope of the volcano.

Since 2000, Etna has had several flank and summit eruptions. This one last month was the latest.