A magnitude-4.8 earthquake hit eastern Sicily early in the morning on Wednesday, the night between Christmas and St. Stephen’s Day, injuring at least 28 people and damaging houses, buildings and churches. No deaths have been reported.
The earthquake struck at 03:19 a.m. local time near the villages of Viagrande, Santa Venerina and Zafferana, at the foot of Mount Etna, Europe's biggest and most active volcano, which has been erupting this week. Italy’s Civil Protection officials said the quake was part of a swarm of about 1,000 tremors related to Etna’s volcanic eruption, most of them small and therefore barely perceptible.
When the earthquake struck, panicked residents fled their homes, and many ended up sleeping in their cars. Approximately 320 people whose homes were damaged have been accommodated in hotels (three of which are in Zafferana Etnea, one in Acireale). Gyms and municipal buildings have been made available for those who are scared to return home. The hardest hit community is Zafferana with 225 dislodged residents.
The earthquake struck north of Catania, Sicily’s largest city on the east coast; no damage or injuries were reported there. The quake was felt in the popular tourist destination of Taormina, and in other towns in eastern Sicily.
Wednesday’s earthquake is among the strongest to have hit in recent decades - it is the first big eruption since 2009 - causing numerous collapses and making several houses uninhabitable.
Mount Etna, a Unesco World Heritage site, began erupting on Monday, sending volcanic ash, heavy smoke and lava stones into the air, causing nearby roads and homes to be covered with ash. The ash cloud prompted the temporary closure of airspace over the airport of Catania.
A new fracture has opened on Etna's southeast crater, from which ash was spewing and lava flowing down.