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Mount Etna-linked quake sends scared Italian villagers fleeing their homes onto streets

Earthquake rattles eastern Sicily

A quake triggered by Mount Etna's ongoing eruption jolted eastern Sicily before dawn Wednesday, slightly injuring as many as 30 people and prompting frightened Italian villagers to flee their homes.

Italy's Civil Protection officials said the quake, which struck at 3:19 a.m., was part of a swarm of some 1,000 tremors, most of them barely perceptible, linked to Etna's volcanic eruption this week.

The quake struck north of Catania, the largest city in the eastern part of the Mediterranean island, but no injuries or damages were reported there. Italy's national seismology institute said it registered a magnitude of 4.8 and occurred at a relatively shallow depth, six-tenths-of-a-mile under the mountain's surface.

Fire fighters are seen next to a house damaged by an earthquake, measuring magnitude 4.8, at the area north of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily
Firefighters are seen next to a house damaged by a magnitude 4.8 earthquake north of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, on December 26, 2018 ANTONIO PARRINELLO / REUTERS

The Reuters news agency explained that the quake was felt strongly because of that relatively shallow depth.

The temblor damaged some rural homes, including structures that had been abandoned years ago, toppled a Madonna statue in a church in the town of Santa Venerina and opened up cracks on a highway, which was closed for inspection, Rai state radio said.

One 80-year-old man was safely extracted from the rubble of his home, the Italian news agency ANSA said.

A woman told state radio that a heavy armoire in her home had toppled over, trapping her sister, who was then safely pulled out by her father. In another house, a ceiling collapsed.

Video and images were posted on social media.

This tweet says, "(rescue) operations underway after earthquake tremor, USAR (urban search and rescue) and canine rescue teams taking part, operations teams are from Calabria, and teams from Lazio, Campania and Puglia are on standby.   Fire brigade officials are examining damaged buildings":

And this one says, "Earthquake magnitude 4.8 with epicenter on the foot of Etna.  Evaluation of structural damages currently underway in the areas of Acireale, Aci Santantonio, Zafferana Etnea.  Operations teams also on their way from the Calabria region":

"Etna remains a dangerous volcano, and this country of ours is unfortunately fragile," government undersecretary Vito Crimi told The Associated Press, adding there were no fatalities and 10 slight injuries.

Reuters cited officials who put the number at about 30.

The quake was also felt in the upscale Sicilian resort town of Taormina.

The Civil Protection agency said temporary shelters were being set up for people whose houses were damaged or who were too alarmed to return to their homes.

FILE PHOTO: Italy's Mount Etna, Europe's tallest and most active volcano, spews lava as it erupts on the southern island of Sicily
File photo shows Italy's Mount Etna, Europe's tallest and most active volcano, spewing lava as it erupts on the southern island of Sicily, Italy on February 28, 2017 ANTONIO PARRINELLO / REUTERS

In recent days, Etna's latest eruption has been shooting volcanic ash, heavy smoke and lava stones into the air, coating roads and homes nearby with ash. A new fracture has opened near Etna's southeast crater and lava has been flowing down an uninhabited slope.

Etna, the largest of Italy's three active volcanoes, has been particularly active since July.