An earthquake triggered by the ongoing eruption of Mount Etna has rocked eastern Sicily, injuring at least ten people, damaging churches and houses on the volcano’s slopes, and forcing villagers to flee their homes.
Italy’s Civil Protection officials said the quake, which hit at 3.19am local time on Wednesday, was part of a succession of roughly 1000 tremors.
Italy’s national seismology institute recorded the quake at a magnitude of 4.8 on the Richter scale and 4.9 on the magnitude scale.
It struck north of Catania, the largest city in the eastern part of the Mediterranean island, but no damage or injuries were reported there.
Reports have emerged of the earthquake opening up cracks in homes in several towns, sending chunks of concrete debris tumbling to the ground.
It toppled a Madonna statue in a church in Santa Venerina and broke up footpaths and a stretch of highway, forcing it to close. Many people spent the hours after the earthquake sleeping in their cars.
In the town of Piano d’Api, firefighters removed cracked stucco from the bell tower of the damaged Santa Maria della Misericordia church. Italy’s culture ministry said the quake damage to churches was being tallied by experts.
“Etna remains a dangerous volcano, and this country of ours is unfortunately fragile,” government undersecretary Vito Crimi said.
18 other people went to local hospitals suffering from panic attacks or shock, according to news reports.
A ceiling collapsed in another house, and in other homes parts of exterior walls crumbled. Some stone walls along fields and local roads crumbled.
Etna, the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes, has been particularly active since July. In recent days, Etna’s latest eruption has been shooting volcanic ash, heavy smoke and lava stones into the air, coating roads and homes nearby with ash.
A new fracture has opened near Etna’s southeast crater and lava has been flowing down an uninhabited slope.
The quake was also felt in the upscale Sicilian resort town of Taormina and in other towns in eastern Sicily.
“From a scientific point of view, we’re dealing with an isolated event,” Angelo Borrelli told Italy’s Sky TG24 TV news channel.
“The technical experts tell us we’re heading toward a cooling of the lava, and we ought to expect a quiescence of the phenomenon (of earthquakes).”