Andrea Kiss, a tourist who filmed footage of lava moving down the side of the volcano 30 minutes before the eruption, told CNN that she knew something had happened when "injured people appeared at the cable auto station". BBC's crew captured the eruption and the escape from the mountain on video.
The volcano, which is more than 3,000 metres tall and sits on the east coast of island Sicily, has been active for the last few days, spewing lava into the air.
The blast is what's known as a "phreatomagmatic eruption", and is caused by extremely hot lava hitting much colder snow.
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Mount Etna, which was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2013, had faced a major eruption in 1992 when the town of Zafferana Etnea was in the path of the lava flow.
Ten people were hurt but remarkably no one was killed when Sicily's Mount Etna blew its top overnight, forcing those nearby into a panicked flight back towards the nearby city of Catania.
The president of the Italian Alpine Club chapter in Catania, Umberto Marino, was travelling up the volcano when injured people started running in his direction. The interaction of lava and snow caused the explosion that had boiling steam, boulders, and smaller rocks heated to high temperatures raining down on the fleeing spectators and a BBC journalist and camerawoman.
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An official explained that the delegation would be flying on a smaller plane than normal and that press access would be limited. Past secretaries of state, both Republican and Democrat, have traditionally traveled with a small group of reporters.
"Many injured - some head injuries, burns, cuts and bruises. Volcanologist said most unsafe incident experience in his 30 year career", she continued on Twitter.
Etna can burst into action several times a year.
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