IN PICTURES: Italy’s Etna spews smoke and ash forcing airport closure

Mount Etna, one of the world's most active volcanoes, belched smoke and ashes in a new eruption on Monday, forcing the temporary closure of the airport of Catania in Sicily.

Mount Etna spews volcanic smoke and ashes on March 4, 2021.
Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, has been spewing out lava, gas and ash. Photo by Giovanni ISOLINO / AFP

The ash cloud rose 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) into the air above a crater on the south-east of the volcano, the INGV National Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology said on Twitter.

The nearby Vincenzo Bellini international airport in Catania closed at lunchtime Monday until further notice, with inbound flights diverted to Palermo.

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: A month of spectacular eruptions at Sicily’s Mount Etna

Ash covered roads, balconies and roofs of towns nearby, Italy’s Civil Protection Agency said.

INGV said it had recorded a gradual rise in volcanic-seismic tremor — induced by escaping gases — which could be a sign that Etna is heading towards another spectacular burst of fiery lava fountaining, known as paroxysmal activity.

At 3,324 metres (nearly 11,000 feet), Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe and has erupted frequently in the past 500,000 years.

On Twitter, Italians joked about the eruption.

“Your majesty Etna, can we get a break? Not five minutes goes by that you have to play some little joke on us?” read one.

Pointing out that the same event happened almost to the week last year, one Twitter user wrote, “Etna why do you like the month of February, do you want to tell us something?”

And another called for “A minute of silence for all the laundry hanging up in Catania right now.”

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Last person missing found dead in Sicily building explosion

The last person still missing following a massive explosion in Sicily that destroyed four residential buildings was found dead in the wreckage Tuesday, firefighters said, bringing the death toll to nine.

Firefighters at the site of the blast in Ravanusa, Sicily, on Tuesday.
Firefighters at the site of the blast in Ravanusa, Sicily, on Tuesday. Photo: Vigili del Fuoco (Italian fire and rescue service)

Firefighters “found the sadly lifeless body of the last missing person,” from the blast that occurred in the southern Sicilian town of Ravanusa Saturday night, Italy’s national fire brigade said on Twitter.

The discovery came half an hour after rescuers said they had found a body of one of the last two remaining people believed to be still trapped underneath the piles of rubble.

The weekend explosion wiped out residential buildings, including a four-story apartment.

READ ALSO: Search continues for two missing after building explosion in Sicily

Rescuers, aided by search and rescue dogs, have been searching for survivors since the evening of the explosion, but only two women were found alive under the rubble, on Sunday.

About 100 people remain homeless following the incident, as authorities cleared out residents from neighbouring buildings that were damaged or deemed dangerous.

Pope Francis on Tuesday sent his condolences and “heartfelt closeness” to the victims and their families, while expressing his “appreciation for those who have done their best in rescue operations”.

Before confirmation of the last two bodies pulled from the wreckage, local media had reported that the two missing people were a father and son.

An investigation has been opened into the cause of the explosion, which authorities say was most likely caused by a gas leak.

Natural gas distributor Italgas said it had received no reports of gas leaks in the week leading up to the incident, despite local residents reporting having heard complaints of a smell of gas.

No construction work was underway in the section of pipeline affected in the blast and the town’s distribution network was fully inspected in both 2020 and 2021, Italgas said.

Italian newspaper La Repubblica said the town’s gas pipelines – installed 36 years ago – were among the oldest in Italy, and ran through unstable ground susceptible to soil erosion and landslides.