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Depending on their intensity and position, volcanic eruptions at Mt. Etna (Sicily, Italy, Fig. 1) have the potential to cause significant social and economic damage.
Etna is characterized by persistent activity from summit craters, consisting of degassing and explosive phenomena associated with fast-moving lava flows1, 2, and recurrent effusive eruptions from vents located on the flanks of the volcano, producing lava flows that can extend for several kilometers.
In future eruptions, one can expect to see one or the other of these eruptive types. The geological record suggests that summit eruptions are somewhat more probable than flank. However, both summit and flank eruptions are likely to produce lava flows, and these are the greatest hazard posed by Mt. Etna to inhabited areas.
Over the last 400 years, the most destructive eruption occurred in 1669 when ~1 km3 of lava was erupted in about four months, producing a 17.3 km long tube-fed lava flow field that destroyed several villages and part of the city of Catania5.
In the last century, the town of Mascali was almost completely destroyed by lava flows in 1928, and the towns of Fornazzo, (S’Alfio is a bit north east of Fornazzo), Randazzo, and Zafferana Etnea were threatened in 1979, 1981, and 1992, respectively.
Recently, tourist facilities in the summit area have been extensively devastated by the 2001 and 2002–2003 lava flow-forming eruptions9, with serious damage to the local economy.