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Mt Etna lava swallows ski lift

MOUNT ETNA, Sicily -- A fast-moving stream of lava has destroyed three central pylons of Mount Etna's ski lift and emergency crews are working frantically to save the base station.

Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, is spewing lava, ash and rock from several fissures.

Overnight, the lava cut across the path of the ski lift, which is 1.5 miles long, as it made its way down the mountain.

On Thursday, a wall of lava began building up above the base station, and civil protection officials asked the army to send in heavy equipment. At mid-afternoon a convoy of military bulldozers was heading up the mountain.

The new stream of molten lava, which had been moving at about six feet an hour overnight, appeared to pick up speed throughout the day, dimming hopes of saving the base station at Rifugio Sapienza, near the ski lift.

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Although the lava was still at least 150 yards away, it was stacking up on the steep slopes, and the pressure on the lava wall was building, The Associated Press reported.

Rivers of lava have flowed down the sides of the volcano, threatening nearby villages. Thousands of gallons of water have been dropped by air to try to cool the advancing flow.

Thundering underground explosions shake the earth every few minutes.

The lava has come within 1,800 feet of the main road leading into Nicolosi, Italian authorities say.

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

The last major eruption of Mount Etna, which towers 10,860 feet above Sicily, was in 1992.

A state of emergency remains in effect in the region, with dozens of families on standby to be evacuated from the village of Nicolosi.

-- CNN Correspondent Matthew Chance contributed to this report.






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