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Panicked Italians Evacuate Homes Following Mt. Etna Tremors - 2002-10-29

About 1,000 people have evacuated their homes, following a series of earthquakes around Mount Etna, on the island of Sicily. The biggest earthquake had a magnitude of 4.4 on the Richter scale.

Sicilians panicked on the third day of earth tremors since Mount Etna's seismic activity resumed Sunday. Many ran out of their homes in fear and will spend the night in tents made available by the government. They are also being supplied with meals.

The earthquake forced 600 people to evacuate their homes in the town of Santa Venerina, at the foot of Europe's most active volcano. Buildings in the town are being checked for structural damage, and town officials say they are removing artworks from the town's church for fear that it will collapse.

Residents of Linguaglossa, a popular ski resort just 12 kilometers from the major lava spill, spent last night praying in the town's church. Despite assurances by seismic experts that the town will not disappear under the lava, the worried residents face another night outside their homes.

Rivers of lava continue to flow down Mount Etna's northern and southern sides. Clouds of thick black ash can be seen above Sicily's second largest city, Catania. Authorities are keeping the city's airport closed, with flights being diverted to Palermo. Schools have also been shut and the city's university has decided to close until the emergency is over.

A state of natural disaster has been proclaimed in all the areas affected by the volcano's seismic activity. Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is in constant contact with Sicilian authorities and has announced he will travel to Catania in the next few days.