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Three Earthquakes Rattle Sicilians Sunday - 2002-11-24

Frightened Sicilians fled from their homes on Mount Etna's slopes, as three earthquakes rocked the area in less than an hour on Sunday. No damage has been reported, but evacuation of a refuge on the volcano has begun.

The river of lava flowing down Europe's most active volcano is just 400 meters from the Refuge Sapienza, used by hikers and tourists. Salvatore Moschetto, the mayor of Nicolosi, a town close to the refuge, describes the situation as serious.

Staff at the refuge have begun to evacuate the building. They have started loading furniture onto trucks, fearful that the lava flow may swallow the building. The pylons and cars of the nearby ski lift are also being dismantled.

Meanwhile, the army is working with bulldozers and trucks, in an effort to construct a wall of earth around the refuge that will slow down the flow of the lava and save it.

Three quakes Sunday morning, with a magnitude of up to 3.7, shook the mountain. Residents of Santa Venerina, one town struck by a quake less than a month ago, rushed from their homes in alarm.

The town's mayor, Enrico Pappalardo, said the shaking was violent. He added that it was like reliving the nightmare of the quake of October 29. But no injuries or damage to the buildings were reported immediately.

Etna burst into activity again four weeks ago, with rivers of lava pouring down the mountain, and clouds of thick black ash covering Sicily's second largest city, Catania.