Mount Etna, in Sicily, Italy, has erupted again, but this recent event was considered a more violent explosion than is typical for Mount Etna. In recent days, Etna has released ash, but nothing particularly dangerous until Thursday’s event at the Belvedere area of Mount Etna that spewed steam and molten rocks onto tourists and a BBC journalist. This latest Mount Etna event is considered a “phreatic eruption.”
Screams Heard On BBC Video Footage
You can see and hear on the BBC video below a deafening explosion on Mount Etna, followed by panicked screams. The camerawoman was knocked over and the footage shows a camera angle as she struggles to get upright with the journalist at her side during the episode on Mount Etna. People can be seen fleeing down away from the eruption site as many of the injured panicked.
The steam plumes were enormous. It was the third time within the last three weeks that significant volcanic activity has occurred at Mount Etna. The molten lava spewed more than 650-feet in the air, but that was not what put the tourists, one scientist, and a BBC reporting team at risk. It was the steam and flying debris that posed the danger on Mount Etna. When lava moves, it’s usually so slow people that have time to evacuate.
Mount Etna Injuries, But None Serious
Ten were injured on Thursday, March 16, on Mount Etna, and most were interested onlookers that came for the spectacle of an active volcano eruption, so they were aware of the risk. Roughly 35 tourists were on Mount Etna at the time of the explosion midday in Sicily, along with the BBC team that captured the explosion on camera. The Mount Etna guides that accompanied the group got them all to safety with just 10 injured.
Umberto Marino, president of the local Alpine Club, was traveling up Mount Etna towards the active lava flow in a snowcat to check out the activity when the crowd began running towards him.
“The material thrown into the air fell back down, striking the heads and bodies of people who were closest.” Marino told Catania Today. “We saw people coming back wounded.”
What Is A Phreatic Eruption?
The lava flow originated much higher on Mount Etna than where the tourists and film crew were, but it’s the nature of a phreatic eruption that made it dangerous for the onlookers who were still significantly away from the eruption site. On Wednesday, the day before the reported event, new lava began flowing from the southeastern crater of Mount Etna.
The phreatic event occurred when the molten lava, at a temperature of more than 1,830 degrees Fahrenheit hit the snow still on Mount Etna. The interaction of lava and snow caused the explosion that had boiling steam, boulders, and smaller rocks heated to high temperatures raining down on the fleeing spectators and a BBC journalist and camerawoman.
Mount Etna Eruptions Are Frequent, But Rarely Deadly
Mount Etna draws thousands of tourists each year as one of the most active volcanoes in the world, but it’s rare that any of the tourists on Mount Etna are injured. Another phreatic eruption 14 years ago injured 32 people on Mount Etna including first responders. Prior to that, in 1979, nine tourists were killed as they stood on the rim of Mount Etna during an eruption.
Since those tourist deaths, authorities that govern visitation to Mount Etna have limited accessibility to more volatile areas of the active volcano. BBC global science reporter Rebecca Morelle was on hand for the event and said the Mount Etna explosion is “a reminder of how dangerous and unpredictable volcanoes can be” adding “everyone had a very lucky escape.”
Oldest Volcano Victim Was 78
Of the tourists, guides, and other personnel on Mount Etna at the time of the explosion, the oldest was a 78-year-old woman. Injuries suffered included burns, cuts, bruises, and head injuries. One woman had a fractured elbow from a fall due to the Mount Etna eruption. Six victims were taken to local hospitals within miles of the volcano. Among those hospitalized were several German tourists and a local from Zafferana, Sicily, which is geographically very close to Mount Etna.
Two victims had to be airlifted off Mount Etna for medical attention. There are currently two lava flows coming off Mount Etna. One is aimed at the Valle del Bove and the other at Monte Wheat Supino. This excitement has sent #MountEtna trending on Twitter, with social media commenters enthused to see a Mount Etna eruption up close to those pledging never to go near such an event.
[Featured Image by Salvatore Allegra/AP Images]