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Etna forces state of emergency

Etna has been belching ash and molten lava for days
Etna has been belching ash and molten lava for days  

NICOLOSI, Sicily -- A national state of emergency remains in force around Sicily's Mount Etna as it continues to spew molten lava and ash thousands of feet into the air.

There are fears for the local communities of Catania, where the international airport has been closed, and Nicolosi, where a small community of 5,000 perched on the side of the mountain is in the path of a lava flow.

Dozens of families remain in standby to be evacuated as thousands of gallons of water continue to be dropped by air to try to cool the advancing lava.

For a week, Europe's highest and most active volcano has been sending out huge clouds of smoke and black ash and rivers of lava.

The government declared a state of emergency in the area last Thursday.

Residents in the area of Italy's Mt. Etna are keeping an eye on Europe's most active volcano (July 25)

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Picture gallery: Mount Etna  

Two lava flows are working their way down the volcano's southern side, one of which emerged from a new fissure that cracked opened at a height of 7,000 feet.

There are now five vent-like fissures on the mountain.

Catania's airport, which closed for three hours on Sunday so firefighters could sweep a thick layer of ash off the runway, halted flights again on Monday morning when it became too difficult to clear the rapidly falling volcanic deposit.

It is unclear when the airport would reopen.

An airport official told Reuters news agency: "We cannot open again while the ash continues to fall ... we are hoping for the wind to change direction."

One of the lava flows is within 2.5 miles of the village of Nicolosi. A second lava flow is continuing down the southern face of Etna, west of Nicolosi.

The southern flow does not threaten any residential areas, but security forces are trying to save nearby ski lifts.

The village's community have held a religious procession to ask God to help divert or stop the lava flow.

Lava has been inching its way down the mountain
Lava has been inching its way down the mountain  

"We're praying to God because at this stage He's the only one who can stop the lava," said an elderly woman as she entered the small Roman Catholic church.

Legend has it that in 1886 the local archbishop managed to divert a wave of boiling magma descending on the village by holding up a statue of Saint Anthony in front of the flow.

Mount Etna is a popular winter resort, but tourism officials say snow may not end up settling this winter because of the extreme heat of the lava.

The last time Etna posed a threat was in 1992 when lava streams headed toward Zafferana, a town of 7,000 people on Etna's lower slopes.

The Italian military had to use controlled explosions to divert the flow.

• Etna Decade Volcano, Sicily, Italy
• Mt. Etna, Sicily, Italy
• Volcanoes Around The World

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