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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Despite Earthquake, Vesuvius Still 'Sleeping,' Italy Says

ROME -- Italy sought to reassure citizens and tourists Thursday that there was no danger of Mount Vesuvius, which overlooks Naples, erupting soon because of an earthquake in its crater.

The volcano that buried Pompeii 2,000 years ago remains "tranquil," authorities said, attacking foreign media suggestions of an imminent eruption as a bid to sabotage tourism.

"The alarm is totally unjustified. There is absolutely no reason to worry," said Professor Franco Barberi, one of Italy's leading vulcanologists and junior minister for civil protection.

"Vesuvius is completely tranquil. It continues, as it has done since 1944, to sleep a tranquil sleep. There is not even the slightest sign that the volcano is waking up," he told Italian state radio.

Concern about Vesuvius, which towers over the densely populated Gulf of Naples, was raised Wednesday after an earthquake measuring 3.1 on the Richter scale was registered just before dawn in the area of its crater.

But Barberi and other officials said the seismic activity was normal and attacked foreign media reports in recent weeks about a potential eruption.

"It is totally absurd. This is a form of sabotage against tourism on the Neapolitan coast," Barberi said.

Italian radio said some British tourists had canceled holidays in nearby resorts such as Sorrento and Amalfi.

"The Vesuvius risk exists in a projected future time frame that no one is able to predict, so it is absurd that there would be reactions to a very small earthquake," Barberi said.

"This earthquake was felt [by the population] but there are hundreds, just as in any volcano that is sleeping," he added.

No damage was reported from Wednesday's earthquake in the towns and villages on the slopes of the volcano. Residents of some of the villages felt the quake and left their homes.

The most famous eruption of Vesuvius, whose tallest peak is 1,277 meters, was in A.D. 79, when the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried.

Vesuvius' last spectacular eruption came during World War II in 1944, when it showered the Naples area with fine ash. That eruption caused little damage.

Since 1944, the volcano has been mostly quiet, emitting only an occasional plume of smoke. Lucia Civetta, director of the Vesuvius Observatory, also moved to reassure residents and tourists.