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World - Europe

Experts say Italy's Mount Etna may erupt

lava
As lava flows, scientists speculate on the likelihood of a serious eruption

RELATED VIDEO
CNN's Fiona Foster reports on the threat of eruption
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February 21, 1999
Web posted at: 5:35 p.m. EST (2235 GMT)

MOUNT ETNA, Italy (CNN) -- The tallest and most active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna, has issued an intermittent stream of rocks, ash and lava since July.

Researchers now say they have discovered a fracture on the volcano's northeastern side, just under the main crater, which may indicate the mountain is changing shape.

Some believe the latest lava flow may be a prelude to the first serious eruption in six years from Etna, a snow-capped mountain that rises to 10,900 feet (3,320 meters).

The last major lava discharge, reported February 4, flowed to an uninhabited section of the mountain. The fracture was noticed shortly afterwards.

Since then, experts now constantly monitor the volcano for signs of danger. So far the instruments have recorded only minor seismic activity.

Nearby residents have had few problems. A series of eruptions in January showered local villages with ash, but didn't cause any injuries.

The volcano is located less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the town of Catania in Sicily. Most residents of the area are watching it with a wary eye.

Well over 100 serious Etna eruptions have been documented over the past 2,500 years. Etna's last major volcanic event took place in 1992, when streams of lava threatened 7,000 residents in the village of Zafferana. Military personnel set up spectacular explosions that successfully diverted the lava flow.

The name "Etna" comes from the Greek aitho, meaning "I burn."

Correspondent Fiona Foster contributed to this report.


RELATED STORIES:
Sicily's Mount Etna belches ash and rocks
July 23, 1998

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Etna 1997
Etna Decade Volcano, Sicily, Italy
Exhibit Collection: Volcanoes
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