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Volcanic ash from Mount Etna hasn’t hindered flights or operations at Naval Air Station Sigonella or its support bases, U.S. military officials said.

The ash had forced the civilian airport at nearby Catania to limit flights to daytime hours for four days.

But with the volcano still spitting and spurting, situations could change abruptly.

“Sigonella is consulting with the Italian military on a daily basis to determine if we should modify or change our air operational hours or status,” base spokesman Lt. Jonathan Groveman said Tuesday.

Tons of grainy black soot forced Italian authorities to shut down the civilian Fontanarossa airport from dusk until dawn because pilots had difficulty seeing the runway or evading ash clouds, Italian news agencies reported.

Mount Etna, Europe’s largest and most active volcano, looms just north of the U.S. Navy base. Steam and sulphur frequently emanate from its peak, and on many nights, residents can see a reddish glow of lava.

The NAS I support complex, which includes the schools, Navy Exchange and commissary, is at the base of Etna’s south slope. NAS II, including the Marinai military housing complex, is nearby in a valley.

During Etna’s eruption in 2002, physical education classes at Sigonella’s Stephen Decatur School were held indoors, and other recreational activities were canceled or postponed until the dust settled. Such precautions haven’t been necessary so far this year.

“We’re not affected by the ash because it’s not coming our way,” said Chief Petty Officer David Naab, the liaison officer between the military and the school.

Most of the ash fell over Catania and neighboring towns during the Thanksgiving weekend, when most people did not have to travel from their homes to get to work or school. Rains late Monday and early Tuesday helped clear the air.

“Right now, it’s a sightseeing [opportunity] and photo competition to see who gets the best pictures,” Naab said Tuesday.

Officials did, however, review their noncombatant evacuation order kits, which make sure all personnel are accounted for, and people know where to go in an emergency, Naab said.


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