The residents of Stromboli know that they are living ona powder keg. The few hundred of them spend all year on the small Italian island, which is home to one of the most active volcanoes inthe world.
Only in the summer do the crowds show up. Tourists from all over the world descend on the island off Sicily’s coast to sunbathe on its magnificent black-sand beaches, with the volcano as a slightly creepy background.
On Wednesday afternoon, two loud explosions tore through the summer idyll. Sounds resembling the thunder of cannons descended from the approximately 900-metre-high volcano.
A two-kilometre-long ash column rose into the sky before smoke obscured the island and sea. Smouldering lava clumps fell like fiery rain to the ground, eyewitnesses said.
The small village of Ginostra was particularly affected. Nearby, a Sicilian hiker died; he wanted to go on an excursion to the volcano with a guide.
“People ran for cover in their houses or jumped into the sea to protect themselves from the lava stones,” taxi driver GianlucaIoppolo, who has been living on Stromboli for 20 years, told dpa.
He urged people on the beach to run to higher ground, in case rocks would have slid into the water and triggered a tsunami. In a video that he shot, you can hear frightened children and women in the background.
On Stromboli, memories of the 2002 tsunami are still fresh. At thetime, a post-eruption landslide triggered a tidal wave of up to 10metres high that also swept over the neighbouring islands of Lipariand Panarea. Miraculously, only a few people were injured.Authorities ordered Stromboli to be evacuated for more than two months.
A big eruption also took place in 2007.
Italy is a country rich in volcanoes. Mount Etna on mainland Sicily is also very active and regularly makes headlines with its spectacular eruptions.
Unlike Mount Vesuvius in Naples, the Stromboli volcano is not dormant. Like Etna, it regularly spews ash and smoke, and is closely monitored. Those on the island can hear a constant rumble.
Visitors are only allowed to climb the volcano with a guide. On Wednesday, there luckily was no group on the crater.
“I am shocked. When I heard the two explosions, I thought of Pompeii and the Vesuvius eruption,” Elisabetta, a tourist from Naples, told the Adnkronos news agency - drawing a parallel with the devastating eruption in 79 AD that buried the city of Pompeii.
“Around me, there was a sea of rocks, lava stones, ash and a lot, a lot of smoke. You could not see anything anymore. The sky, the sea went black,” she said.
For more than 2,000 years, the rocks under the Aeolian archipelago of which Stromboli is a part have regularly been moving. Small eruption stake place every 10 minutes or so, but they are usually not that powerful.
Tourists visit Stromboli precisely because of the volcano.Celebrities such as the fashion pair Dolce and Gabbana are among those who cherish the spectacular view on the “Iddu,” as the Stromboli volcano is also known.
What will happen next is hard to say.
“You cannot predict this, just like earthquakes,” the volcanologist Salvatore Passaro told the Il Messaggero newspaper. “There can be more eruptions or it can let up.”
According to Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, these explosions were among the strongest seen since records started in 1985.
Dozens of tourists voluntarily left the island on Wednesday and Thursday, but there was no mandatory evacuation. — dpa