We were at the train station in Naples buying train tickets for Taormina. Unbeknownst to us, Mt. Etna was at that moment erupting, coating Taormina in a layer of volcanic ash, sand and rock.
Shortly after buying our train tickets, we checked the internet and found stories about the eruption and worried for a second that maybe our travel plans would be messed up. Actually, Kristi was worried. “Etna erupts all the time,” I said dismissively.
Although our plans were not messed up, the residents of Taormina are cleaning up in the aftermath of the eruption. We arrived to find Taormina covered in black volcanic lava rock. The internet reports called it sand or ash, but in reality, it is like a coating of ground up asphalt that covers the town. It is crunchy underfoot and it has invaded everything. Crews have been at work removing the tiny lava rocks from the streets, but it is a slow process. Parked cars protect piles of black soot; porches, stairs and roofs harbor the debris of the volcano.
The owner of our guesthouse was quite amazed at the result, indicating that the prevailing winds usually take the debris from the eruptions out to sea. “One eruption went all the way to Israel,” he told us as he showed us an arial photo of a past eruption.
One complication, he said, is that the rocky debris on the cars simply cannot be moved off with the windshield wipers because it scratches the glass and paint. This was pretty obvious when I looked at cars today with tiny bits of volcanic gravel piled in the base of the windshield or atop the wipers. The only way to clean the car, it seems, would be to turn it upside down and dump it out. As small as these cars are, that wouldn’t be that hard.
I saw shop owners all day fighting the inevitable. Many of them were sweeping out the entrances to their shops, getting rid of the black jetsam tracked in by the shoes of customers. This struggle to keep the floors clean will be going on for awhile, probably until the end of time, I assume.
We talked to a clerk at a pizzeria who wasn’t that surprised by the result, saying that worse things can happen. He said he expects events like this by living in the shadow of Europe’s most active volcano.
“What was it like?” I asked.
“It was like rain, but sand,” he replied.
That would have been cool to experience, I thought.
The layer of rock/sand/ash – whatever you choose to call it – is only about 1/4 of an inch deep. As Etna was erupting, we were touring Pompeii, where in 79 AD the town was covered in 15-20 feet of burning ash, rocks and volcanic sand. Two-thousand people died that day in Pompeii alone, so all things considered, it could be much worse.
Secretly, I think my wife has something to do with the reason Etna erupted. For my upcoming birthday, I asked her to get me a hiking excursion to the top of Etna. I am sensing that such excursions will be on hold for a bit. I think she prayed to God, or made offerings to the volcano god, that something dramatic would happen so she wouldn’t have to scale the peak with me. Her prayers were answered.
Below is a slideshow of some of the aftermath of the eruption. Click on any photo to open up the slideshow viewer.