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The great eruption of Mount Etna, which had been expected for over a year, began at 4 pm on February 16th, 2021. First,  a small lava overflow from the South East crater (SEC) and a significant increase in tremor. Then, in just less than two hours, alert levels have risen. At about 5:10 pm, very violent explosions made the slopes of the volcano and the foothills vibrate.

Shortly after, columns of smoke, steam and ash rose from the SEC-NSEC complex. At the same time a large amount of material collapsed down, towards Valle del Bove. From the fractures opened with the explosions, several lava streams came out in a few seconds. Two of the largest immediately reached the bottom of the valley that opens onto the eastern flank of Etna.

Great emission of ash and lava

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high columns of ash

The eruption was accompanied by intense tremors, loud roars heard from all over the coast and lava fountains which reached 100 meters height. The dense columns of ash blown by the wind headed south. In fact, on the southern foothills, even large lapilli have fallen, covering roads, houses and cars. Naturally, the activities of Catania’s airport of Fontanarossa have  stopped and flights have been diverted.

The spectacular eruption had been expected for some time. Mount Etna had been restless since 2019 and for about 10 months the conduits had been filled with continuously rising magma. The emissions of gas bubbles had been producing Strombolian activity for months. Volcanologists feared an extraordinary event, especially a lateral one. The fear was that the flank of the volcano could be ripped open with significant damage to the towns. But the eruption took place at the top, instead, far from urban areas.

Constant monitoring

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lapilli over catania

Volcanologists keep a close eye on the course of the lava. They monitor if it overcomes the borders of the Valle del Bove endangering towns such as Zafferana Etnea located right on the threshold of the great depression. However – as the most powerful eruptive thrust is exhausted – the lava streams also seem to have slowed down a lot.

(the photos are by Go Etna and Grazia Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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