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Etna ash closes airport

CATANIA, Sicily -- Ash from Mount Etna has forced the fourth closure of Sicily's Fontanarossa airport since the volcano began erupting two weeks ago.

The shutdown is expected to last the entire weekend and comes at the height of the summer travel season.

Lava from Mount Etna has stopped flowing but it is still spewing fountains of fine gray ash a kilometre (half-mile) high.

The dark rain of ash and cinders has blanketed the runway at the airport in Catania.

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Officials said they hoped to reopen Fontanarossa -- the main airport in eastern Sicily -- on Monday.

Etna's monitors reported that the main lava fronts were all but stationary for the third day in a row.

Rafaello Raschi, a spokesman for the Etna Monitoring Center, said the situation is stable and the number of people monitoring the eruption has been cut back.

Civil protection officials were relieved that Etna was spewing just gas and ash and not the fiery lava that had threatened the Rifugio Sapienza tourist base halfway up the volcano.

The wall of lava had had crept dangerously close to the Sapienza station at an altitude of 1,910 meters (6, 266 feet).

It swept over two of the three man-made barriers erected to protect the base, and swallowed a cable-car station and a building used to store ski equipment.

The lava stopped before it reached the hostel, restaurants and souvenir shops.

Another lava front came to within 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) of the town of Nicolosi farther down the slopes, then stopped in its tracks.

Etna, which towers 3,310 meters (10,860 feet) above Sicily, comes to life every few months. The last major eruption was in 1992.

• The Etna Volcano Park
• Etna Decade Volcano, Sicily, Italy
• Mt. Etna, Sicily, Italy
• Volcanoes Around The World

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