A deadly earthquake has struck central Italy, leaving up to 38 people dead so far, according to provisional count by rescue officials.
The quake is said to have happened after 3:30am local time on Wednesday morning when people were still sleeping in their homes. It has been reported that some 60 aftershocks have followed in the first four hours of the initial earthquake, some having reached a magnitude of 5.5.
Geological experts estimate the depth of the quake to be around 6 miles. The European Mediterranean Seismological Centre put the magnitude at 6.1, while the United States Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.2. The quake was felt across a broad section of the central part of the country, including the capital, Rome.
BBC reports that some buildings in Rome shook for around 20 seconds. The quake was also felt from Bologna in the north to Naples in the south. It has been reported that somewhere between 60-80 aftershocks have followed in the first four hours of the initial earthquake, some having reached a magnitude of 5.5.
The epicenter of the devastating quake has been marked in the town of Norcia in Umbria region, about 105 miles northwest of Rome.
In the town of Amatrice, near the Province of Rieti in Nothern Lazio, it is believed almost half of the city has been destroyed by the quake. The main street running through the town has been completely destroyed. Emergency workers are trying to reach six people trapped inside a collapsed building.
The town’s Mayor, Sergio Perozzi told state-run RAI Radio 1 that there were downed buildings in the town centre, and that basic services, such as water and electricity supply are down.
“What can I tell you? It’s a tragedy. Half the town is gone. There are people under the rubble… There’s been a landslide and a bridge might collapse,” he said.
Mayor Perozzi also revealed that there are so many victims trapped under the rubble, that the town is currently preparing a place for their bodies to be buried.
As at writing, rescue officials have announced there are more than 150 people missing in town and the villages devastated by the quake. Local officials said the number of those injured is still unknown. It is expected that the death toll will rise. Rescue officials are experiencing difficulties reaching some areas hit, especially in the regional villages. The security forces have been deployed to help in the rescue operation. There are suggestions in local media that Italy may call for external help, due to the overwhelming nature of the disaster.
In two villages in Ascoli Piceno, 11 people have been reported dead. 20 people have been taken to hospital and are currently being treated. Sniffer dogs sent into buildings are searching for possible survivors.
Italy’s Civil Protection agency described the earthquake as severe. An official of the agency told Reuters: “It was so strong. It seemed the bed was walking across the room by itself with us on it.”
A spokesman for the country’s fire department also said there had been reports of victims in the quake zone, but he did not have any precise details.
The country’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi has announced that he is making an emergency visit to areas hit by the quake. He urged the country not to only sit back and cry, but to act, in order to help save the lives of possible remaining survivors trapped under rubble.
The BBC’s science reporter, Jonathan Amos, who has in-depth knowledge in geology, reported that quakes are an ever-present danger for those who live along the Apennine mountain range in Italy. According to Amos, throughout the centuries, thousands of people in the area have died as a result of quakes equal to, or not much bigger than this current one.
Meanwhile, if we go back some years, in 2009, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck in the Aquila region. It was also felt in Rome, just like this current one. More than 300 people lost their lives in that devastating quake.
In May 2012, another quake hit the northern Emilia Romagna region. Some 23 people died. 14,000 others were rendered homeless as a result of the earthquake.