Nightline: Mt. Etna

I admit it. I find volcanoes fascinating. The pictures of an eruption are stunning. I think we tend to think of things like this as belonging to earth's past. I remember when Mt. St. Helens erupted, and it just seemed like something that should have happened in the distant past. It didn't belong in the modern world.

Now Mt. Etna in Sicily is erupting. And yes, one of the reasons we are doing the broadcast tonight is because the pictures coming from there are so spectacular, especially at night. I just got off the phone with the Nightline producer on the side of the mountain, and he said it was unlike anything he had ever seen, in addition to being really hot and unpleasant.

But there is more to the story than just watching the lava flow. There are villages on the mountain, which have been there for centuries. The villages have been destroyed several times, only to be rebuilt on exactly the same spots. Of course, there's an obvious question. Wouldn't people have learned their lesson after that happened a couple of times? But there are reasons that they stay. One is their attachment to the land of their ancestors. The other is that the lava flows create some of the best farmland in the world. Bob Woodruff, the correspondent there, says that while the journalists and tourists are engrossed in the display, the villagers just go about their daily lives.

Nightline has something of a history with volcanoes. We did a couple of broadcasts when a volcano virtually destroyed the island of Montserrat a couple of years ago. We went to the capital, or at least what was left of it after it was devastated by mud and ash flows. It was like walking through Pompeii. Things were melted into strange shapes. I remember flower pots having been melted, leaving the dirt still standing in the shape of the pot. One other thing came out of those broadcasts that has become a running joke here. The term for the superheated mud and ash that a volcano puts out is "pyroclastic flow." People here became so tired of the term, and there really isn't any other way to say it, it has been banned from our air.

So, without using those words, we'll have two reports from our team in Sicily, and we'll talk to a couple of volcanologists who know the mountain intimately. It should be pretty spectacular.

Now, a couple of notes about last night. We got a large number of e-mails about Ted's interview with Vice President Cheney, about half accusing us of being too soft, the other half accusing us of being too hard on him. And then there were the usual few that expressed the fervent hope that we would meet our ends in unusually creative ways. I was surprised at the number that were upset that Ted brought up the issue of the vice president's health. Given his history and the fact that he is next in line for the presidency, I think that questions about his health are legitimate. Not all of you agree.

And a number of you wrote in to say that I should have said "centered on" rather than "centered around" in yesterday's e-mail. Message received.

So we hope you'll join us tonight to watch the fireworks.

Leroy Sievers is the Executive Producer of Nightline.