Noxious fumes and tremendous amounts of ash and molten lava spewed from Mount Etna in 1669 and killed more than 20,000 Sicilians. Just prior to this eruption, an associated earthquake killed an additional 15,000 people.
Mount Etna rises 11,000 feet above sea level on the island of Sicily. Mount Etna's nearly continuous eruptions have caused it to increase in size, making it one of Europe's tallest and most active volcanoes. Though it has been erupting continuously since 475 B.C., the most notable eruption occurred in 1669.
Many villages surrounded Mount Etna due to the fertile soil created by its eruptions. Residents ignored rumblings, and many died from asphyxiation in the first stages of the eruption. The explosion was so violent that ash traveled as far as the southern part of mainland Italy. Lava poured down the south side of the mountain toward the city of Catania. Residents attempted to divert the lava flow, but it ultimately endangered the nearby city of Paterno. Discovery of this fact caused the citizens of Paterno to interfere with the diversionary tactics and the path of the lava flow resumed to Catania. Remaining hopeful, many residents failed to evacuate. As a result of this disaster, Italy does not allow interference with the natural flow of lava today.