Earthen barriers to control lava flows in the 2001 eruption of Mt. Etna
Preceded by four days of intense seismicity and marked ground deformation, a new eruption of Mt. Etna started on 17 July and lasted until 9 August 2001. It produced lava emission and strombolian and phreatomagmatic activity from four different main vents located on a complex fracture system extending from the southeast summit cone for about 4.5 km southwards, from 3000 to 2100 m elevation (a.s.l.). The lava emitted from the lowest vent cut up an important road on the volcano and destroyed other rural roads and a few isolated country houses. Its front descended southwards to about 4 km distance from the villages of Nicolosi and Belpasso. A plan of intervention, including diversion and retaining barriers and possibly lava flow interruption, was prepared but not activated because the flow front stopped as a consequence of a decrease in the effusion rate. Extensive interventions were carried out in order to protect some important tourist facilities of the Sapienza and Mts. Silvestri zones (1900 m elevation) from being destroyed by the lava emitted from vents located at 2700 m and 2550 m elevation. Thirteen earthen barriers (with a maximum length of 370 m, height of 10–12 m, base width of 15 m and volume of 25 000 m3) were built to divert the lava flow away from the facilities towards a path implying considerably less damage. Most of the barriers were oriented diagonally (110–135°) to the direction of the flow. They were made of loose material excavated nearby and worked very nicely, resisting the thrust of the lava without any difficulty. After the interventions carried out on Mt. Etna in 1983 and in 1991–1992, those of 2001 confirm that earthen barriers can be very effective in controlling lava flows.