ROME - A strong earthquake caused by Mount Etna's ongoing eruption led to panic in eastern Sicily early Wednesday. No one was killed, but at least 30 people suffered minor injuries.
Italian authorities used helicopters early Wednesday to assess the damage, after the 4.8 magnitude earthquake struck. The island is home to Mount Etna, the volcano which has recently triggered hundreds of tremors, some stronger than others.
Homes were damaged, with cracks appearing on building walls and others collapsing entirely. One family whose home collapsed in the town of Fleri said it was a miracle they survived.
The local population in these areas is used to the constant eruptions of Etna, the most active volcano in Europe. However, one 80-year-old resident said never in his life had he felt a quake like the one that hit in the middle of the night.
Others described leaving their homes through the windows and said the lamps swayed and everything shook. They said they were frightened and prayed that such a powerful quake would not occur again.
The epicenter was located north of the eastern Sicilian city of Catania and officials said it was shallow, at a depth of just one kilometer from the surface. At least six towns were affected, and a section of the highway had to be closed for inspection.
In Pennisi, near Acireale, the bell tower of a church collapsed as did the statue of Saint Emidio, traditionally believed to protect against earthquakes. Officials were also assessing damage to cultural heritage sites.
Eugenio Privitera, the director of the national institute for geophysics and volcanology in Catania, said the seismic events are unsettling and caused by a fault that is dangerous when it moves.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said he would visit those affected by the quake on Thursday.