In the largest city in Sicily, Catania, an alarm went off inside the scientific research center, the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).
A large wall covered with dozens of screens showed a tapestry of charts, and live video streams, but it was one particular screen which drew the scientists’ attention.
“An earthquake, on the south side of Etna,” said volcanologist Boris Behncke as he pointed to a line that violently jerked to a squiggle. Behncke knew that squiggles like these could mean big things to the people living in Etna’s shadow.
Here, like in many places on the east side of Sicily, Mt Etna looms large over daily life. According to Behncke, it is “currently the most active volcano on Earth” and even at over 30km away, it is a visible presence and a volatile threat.
The risk becomes greater closer to Etna’s summit. People making the journey to see the volcano up close must take a winding road flanked on either side by centuries of lava flows which have left mile upon mile of destructive deposit on the landscape.
On the south side of the volcano, a small cluster of shops and restaurants have built up around the ski lifts which take people up closer to the summit.
In 1983, a river of lava flowed down. When it met the first building, the restaurant La Cantoniera, it split it in two, ultimately flattening the building entirely.
Etna lava sits a miniature nativity scene. For the people here, living in the shadow of Etna is a complex and emotional undertaking.