An aerial image taken from police helicopter video shows ash and smoke rising from Stromboli, Italy, July 3 2019. Picture: REUTERS/HANDOUT
An aerial image taken from police helicopter video shows ash and smoke rising from Stromboli, Italy, July 3 2019. Picture: REUTERS/HANDOUT

Rome — A volcano on the Italian island of Stromboli erupted dramatically on Wednesday, killing a hiker and sending tourists fleeing into the sea.

The volcano is known to be active but on Wednesday there were two particularly powerful explosions.

“Unfortunately one man is dead, there are a few injured, but none seriously,” emergency worker Calogero Foti told RAI television.

The dead man was a 35-year-old from Messina in Sicily who was walking with a Brazilian companion who was found dehydrated and in a state of shock, the AGI news agency reported.

They were walking below the 400m  altitude limit above which a guide is required.

A navy boat has been sent to the 12km² island for a possible mass evacuation, with 70 inhabitants and tourists already evacuated.

“It was like being in hell because of the rain of fire  coming from the sky,” Italian news agencies quoted local priest Giovanni Longo as saying.

He said it was not known if there were any hikers on the volcano at the time of the eruption, which caused fires around the village of Ginostra.

Stromboli is topped by an active volcano which is a magnet for tourists.

Italian media reported that some tourists had fled into the sea after the eruption, while others had barricaded themselves into homes.

Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) said there were two huge explosions on the central-southern side of the volcano’s crater at midafternoon on Wednesday, one of the biggest explosions ever recorded on the island.

The explosions were preceded by lava spills “from all the active mouths of the crater terrace,” the INGV said, prompting a 2km  high plume of smoke.

“It’s been a long time since we had an eruption of this magnitude,” former local councillor Gianluca Giuffre told RAI news.

“My experience and of those who have been living here for generations leads us to believe that the situation will calm down again but we must be cautious,” he said.

The INGV said it was monitoring the situation.

A previous massive eruption in December 2002 prompted a tidal wave after magma from a particularly violent eruption cascaded into the sea. Six people were injured. Piers, boats and some buildings were swept away.

Access to the island was forbidden to outsiders for over a month amid the risk of further landslides and scientists set up electronic observation stations to monitor volcanic activity.

Four-fifths of the island’s population of about  500 decided to leave for the Aeolian island administrative centre of Lipari, whose schools have taken on Stromboli’s children since the disaster.

Stromboli is part of the seven-island Eolian Archipelago just off Sicily in southern Italy.

AFP