Sicily's volcanic eruptions causes flight disruptions, temporary airport shutdown

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Travelers headed to Sicily and Stromboli in southern Italy are facing disruptions due to volcanic activity.

Eruptions at Italy's Mount Etna and the smaller Stromboli volcano spewed hot ash and lava, raising alert levels on the Mediterranean island of Sicily and forcing a temporary shutdown of Catania Airport on Friday.

Etna, one of the world's most active volcanoes, has seen intense activity in recent days, lighting up the sky near the city of Catania, while Stromboli off the northern Sicilian coast has spilled lava into the sea. The eruption is only affecting Sicily and its nearby islands.

Italy's civil protection agency issued its top, red alert for Stromboli, warning the situation could deteriorate. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and island just off the northern coast of Sicily, Stromboli attracts tourists for its volcanoes and beaches. The island has been battling overtourism over the past few years, as an average of 2,000 visitors arrive by boat to the island's only pier each afternoon.

Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci said Stromboli was "under surveillance," adding that authorities were making sure evacuation plans were ready in case of emergency.

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Mount Etna volcano eruption on July 5, 2024, in Sicily.
Mount Etna volcano eruption on July 5, 2024, in Sicily.

Catania's Mayor Enrico Trantino issued an ordinance on Friday prohibiting the use of cycles and motorcycles for 48 hours and placed a speed limit of about 18 miles per hour "following the copious fallout of volcanic ash."

The fire brigade said they had preemptively doubled the number of firefighters on the island.

Around Catania, on the eastern coast of Sicily, residents and authorities moved to clean up the city after streets and cars were left smothered in black volcanic ash, while the nearby airport was closed temporarily.

Catania Airport is Sicily's busiest airport and Italy's 6th busiest airport, with nearly 9 million passengers each year.

"The runway at Catania Airport is unusable due to the volcanic ash fall. Both arrivals and departures are suspended," the airport said in a statement. As of late Friday night in Italy, 69 flights were canceled, mainly flights from low-cost European airlines EasyJet and Ryanair, according to FlightAware. Twenty-seven percent of its departing flights and 31% of its arriving flights were delayed.

Many flights were being diverted to Palermo, about four hours away from Catalina by car, Euronews reported.

Around 4:30 p.m., the airport tweeted on X, formerly Twitter, that it reopened with limited operations and delays.

Contributing: Angelo Amante; editing by Crispian Balmer and Jason Neely

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is it safe to travel to Italy? Sicily's volcanoes erupt, flight delays