Sicilian airport reopens after Europe’s largest volcano erupted

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A major airport in Italy has reopened after Europe’s most active volcano erupted, spewing ash and smoke over swathes of the country’s east coast.

Flights were cancelled and travellers grounded after Sicily’s Mount Etna erupted at an altitude of about 2700 metres on Sunday night (Rome time), causing chaos at Catania airport just weeks after extreme heat waves and bushfires forced it to shut down operations.

Lava initially flowed from the 3300-metre volcano before dawn on Monday, before subsiding and spreading ash clouds across surrounding areas.

Italy’s most active volcano, Mount Etna, erupted on Sunday night.

“All arrivals and departures are therefore prohibited,” the airport said at the time, adding that “passengers are kindly requested to present themselves at the airport only after consulting their airline”.

The National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology said volcanic activity has since stopped, but disruptions to Mediterranean holidaymakers continued, with the airport resuming operations on Tuesday.

The institute described the activity as “producing a fallout of ash in the southern sector of the volcano and beyond”.

Falling ash also affected road traffic in Sicily, where officials banned the use of bikes and motorcycles and enforced reduced vehicle speeds of below 30 kilometres an hour.

There had been signs of volcanic activity at Mount Etna, with observers at Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology capturing images of large vapour rings being emitted from the summit crater last week.

Vapour rings have been known to commonly form at volcanoes like Etna and Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull when smoke and other gases are rapidly expelled from volcanic vents.

A volcanologist from the institute, Boris Behncke posted photos of the gas rings or “volcanic vortex rings” on social media last month, describing their formation.

“They come from a narrow vent in the SE part of the Bocca Nuova crater, one of the four active summit craters of the volcano,” he wrote.

Behncke said gas rings were “not as rare as is often said, and Etna is a particularly prolific producer of such rings. In the year 2000 the same vent in the Bocca Nuova produced at least 5000 gas rings.”

Lava flows from the Mt Etna volcano as seen from Southeast Crater, in Nicolosi, Sicily.Credit: AP

Flights headed for Catania were forced to divert to other airports. Ryanair, Wizz and Easyjet all delayed, diverted or cancelled flights due to the eruption.

It is the second time an eruption of Mount Etna has caused the Catania airport to close this year. The volcano is known to erupt at least once a year.

Volcanic ashes ascend from the south-eastern crater of Mount Etna in February this year.Credit: AP

In 2018, an earthquake triggered by Mount Etna’s eruption jolted eastern Sicily, injuring at least 10 people, damaging churches and houses on the volcano’s slopes and forcing villagers to flee their homes.

– with Reuters

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