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Sicily earthquake jolts people out of bed: Don’t let low magnitude fool you

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The latest Sicily quake created an ash cloud that led to the temporary closure of Sicilian airspace on Christmas Eve.

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Mount Etna in Sicily caused a seemingly low 4.8-magnitude earthquake, but it injured 28 people and caused damage to buildings as well as road closures.

The volcano sprung back to life on Monday and is spewing lava from a new fissure. This latest quake was the biggest since Monday creating an ash cloud that led to the temporary closure of Sicilian airspace on Christmas Eve.

The Italian national institute for geophysics and volcanology (INGV) said the quake, which struck at 3:19 am, was 1 km deep. The epicenter was to the north of the port city of Catania and the damage caused several families to spend the night in the streets.

Minor injuries were sustained by 28 people, officials said, and 2 people were rescued from a collapsed building. Frightened residents rushed out of their homes as the tremors hit. In the small town of Pennisi, in the province of Catania, a statue of Sant’Emidio, a protector against earthquakes, collapsed in the main square.

Monday’s eruption occurred on the side of Mount Etna and was the first lateral eruption in a decade. The 3,300-meter volcano has erupted frequently in the past 2,700 years. Its most recent occurred in spring 2017, and its last big eruption in early 2009.

An increase in seismic activity this month has also shaken the area around Vesuvius, the large volcano in the Gulf of Naples. It is populated by 3 million people, making it the most densely populated volcanic region in the world.

Marco Neri, an expert in volcanology and a member of INGV, said: “The recent seismic activity caused by the ongoing eruption is not unusual but potentially dangerous.” Eugenio Privitera, director of INGV in Catania, said: “We cannot exclude fractures at a low level. This strong seismic activity is worrying. It reminds me to the eruption in 1984 that killed one man.”

Gaetano Maenza, a member of the Italian professional association of nature and interpretive guide, who lives in a town a few miles from the volcano, told the Guardian: “Tremors during eruptions are pretty normal here. What is unusual is the level of magnitude triggered by Etna. I have no memory of such intensity. It was scary.”

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.