Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, erupted on Monday and caused several minor earthquakes in the region. Italy's national institute for geophysics and vulcanology (INGV) counted more than 130 seismic shocks in the zone, with the strongest reaching a magnitude of 4 on the Richter scale. This also prompted Sicily’s Catania airport on Italy’s eastern coast to be shut down because of poor visibilty. The volcanic eruptions spewed huge columns of ash into the sky. There were no reports of any injuries.
"The eruption occurred on the side of Etna," Boris Behncke, a vulcanologist at INGV, told AFP. "It's the first lateral eruption in more than 10 years, but it doesn't seem to be dangerous. Visibility was still too poor to determine whether the eruption was accompanied by lava, Behncke said.
At any rate, both the seismic activity and ash production appeared to be diminishing in the afternoon, he said. "Due to the eruption of #Etna from today 2pm (December 24th) #Catania airspace is closed," the airport tweeted.
The airport said that while it would be closed, some airspace would be reopened to allow four flights an hour to arrive. It advised passengers to contact their airline before heading to the airport and confirmed that a "crisis unit" was expected to meet.
🔴🇬🇧We have a new update about #Etna volcano. Unfortunately from 9:30 p.m #Catania Airport will be closed again due to volcanic ash. For all information on individual flights please contact your companies https://t.co/0UhJW0CVJO pic.twitter.com/pAlLwu8gX4— Aeroporto di Catania (@CTAairport) December 24, 2018
The 3,330-meter-high volcano can burst into spectacular action several times a year, spewing lava and ash high over the Mediterranean island. Its most recent eruptions occurred in the spring of 2017 and its last major eruption in the 2008/2009 winter.
At the end of March, a study published in the Bulletin of Volcanology said that Etna is slowly sliding towards the Mediterranean -- at a constant pace of 14 millimetres per year.