Flights serving the eastern Sicilian city of Catania were halted after an eruption from nearby Mount Etna, local authorities said, bringing fresh travel troubles to the crisis-plagued Italian airport.

The 3,330 metre high volcano burst into action overnight on Sunday, firing lava and ash high over the Mediterranean island. The lava flow subsided before dawn, but ash was still coming from one of the craters.

Flights to and from Catania, a popular tourist destination, were set to remain suspended until 6am on Tuesday morning, the airport operator said in a statement, dashing hopes they could resume on Monday night.

A car covered in volcanic ash emitted by Mount Etna.
A car covered in volcanic ash emitted by Mount Etna. Photograph: Fabrizio Villa/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Passengers were advised to check with airlines before heading to the airport on Tuesday.

Incoming flights were diverted to other airports in Sicily on Monday. The cancellations come at the peak of the summer holiday season in Italy, while Tuesday is a public holiday.

Catania mayor Enrico Trantino banned the use of motorcycles and bicycles in the city for 48 hours – because many streets were covered in ash – and ordered cars to drive no faster than 30kph (19mph). The ash can quickly become slippery on roads and increase the risk of accidents.

Lava flows from Etna.
Lava flows from Etna. Photograph: Salvatore Allegra/AP

The latest cancellations at Catania airport, which attracts more arrivals than the island’s capital, Palermo, came a month after a fire at a terminal building led to weeks of disruptions for passengers.

The eruption was singaled last week when Etna emitted gas rings. The extremely rare phenomenon occurs when gas bubbles are pushed through a narrow shaft in the volcano, which causes a rotational movement of the margins of the puff of gas, making it acquire a ring shape. The are propelled hundreds of metres into the air.

Smoke rings, composed of a mixture of smoke, steam and other gases are expelled at high speed, as the rarely seen weird phenomenon appears above above Etna before it erupts.
Smoke rings, composed of a mixture of smoke, steam and other gases are expelled at high speed, as the rarely seen weird phenomenon appears above above Etna before it erupts. Photograph: Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images

Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe and has erupted frequently in the past 500,000 years. The last major eruption of Etna was in 1992.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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