A deadly earthquake devastated a string of mountainous towns in central Italy on Wednesday, killing at least 241 people, trapping residents under piles of rubble and leaving thousands homeless.
The quake caused serious damage to a number of towns and villages, but does not seem to have hit heavily populated areas. The worst-affected towns are believed to be Accumoli, Amatrice, Posta and Arquata del Tronto.
“Now that daylight has come, we see that the situation is even more dreadful than we feared, with buildings collapsed, people trapped under the rubble and no sound of life,” said Accumoli Mayor Stefano Petrucci.
Earlier, Petrucci told RAI state broadcaster that a family of four had been buried when their house collapsed, adding that there was no indication they had survived.
RAI quoted police as saying two people were known to have died in the nearby village of Pescara del Tronto. Another two victims were removed from the debris in the small town of Amatrice. Reports of additional casualties are still coming in.
“Three quarters of the town is not there anymore,” Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told RAI. “The aim now is to save as many lives as possible. There are voices under the rubble, we have to save the people there.”
A Reuters reporter said the town’s hospital had been badly damaged by the quake, with patients moved onto the streets.
The earthquake caused damage to towns in three regions – Umbria, Lazio and Marche. The U.S. Geological Survey, which measured the quake at 6.2 magnitude, said it struck near the Umbrian city of Norcia, which has a picturesque historic center and is a major tourist site.
Mayor Nicola Alemanno said no deaths had been reported in Norcia. “The anti-seismic structures of the town have held. There is damage to the historic heritage and buildings, but we do not have any serious injuries,” he told RAI.
Residents of Rome, some 105 miles from the epicenter, were woken by the quake, which rattled furniture and swayed lighting fixtures in most of central Italy.
“It was so strong. It seemed the bed was walking across the room by itself,” Lina Mercantini of Ceselli, Umbria, told Reuters.
The Italian earthquake institute reported 60 aftershocks in the four hours following the initial quake, the strongest measuring 5.5. It measured the original quake at 6.0.
Italy sits on two fault lines, making it one of the most seismically active countries in Europe.
The last major earthquake to hit the country struck the central city of L’Aquila in 2009, killing more than 300 people.
The most deadly episode since the start of the 20th century came in 1908, when an earthquake followed by a tsunami killed an estimated 80,000 people in the southern regions of Reggio Calabria and Sicily.
Updated Thursday, August 25, 2016 at 1:49 am