A 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit the center of Italy in the early hours of Wednesday morning, leveling buildings and burying people underneath the rubble
As many as 50 people were reported killed and dozens more were missing or feared dead Wednesday after a magnitude 6.2 earthquake and a series of aftershocks struck several towns in central Italy, according Italy's civil protection agency.
The ANSA news agency said 35 of the dead were in the small town of Amatrice alone, with another 17 dead in the province of Ascoli Piceno, which includes Pescara del Tronto.
The hardest-hit towns were Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, about 80 miles northeast of Rome.
As rescue teams using bulldozers and their bare hands clawed through piles of rubble, authorities warned that the death toll is likely to rise.
Mayor Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, tells the Associated Press that rescue teams are trying to reach all 69 hamlets around his town.
“Half of the town doesn’t exist anymore,” Pirozzi told RAI-TV. “People are stuck underneath the rubble. Houses are no longer there.”
Police near the town of Ascoli said they could hear cries for help from under the rubble but lacked the heavy equipment to move the rocks, according the RAI radio.
In Accumoli, one witness told the Italian news agency ANSA that fire and police teams looking for a young couple and two children in a pile of rubble were alternating earth moving equipment with individuals using bare hands.
Italy's civil protection agency says at least 37 people have died in the magnitude 6 quake that struck central Italy. Crews are looking through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors and victims. (Aug. 24) AP
Several buildings collapsed and lights went out after the earthquake, Pirozzi said. He said he had trouble communicating with emergency responders and couldn't reach the hospital. The center of Amatrice was devastated and homes collapsed on residents as they slept.
“The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me,” resident Maria Gianni told the AP. “I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn’t hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg.”
The local hospital was also badly hit, forcing the wounded and stretcher-bearers to gather in front of the building. Ambulances then transferred patients to other towns.
The picturesque medieval town of about 3,000 residents — best known as the home of “pasta all’amatriciana” — is remote and was cut off after a bridge connecting the town and the rest of the region was damaged in the quake.
Search parties sifted through the rubble in various towns and villages as the sun rose. It became clear for some officials that the extent of the damage was worse than they initially thought.
"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," Stefano Pertucci, mayor of Accumoli mayor, told RAI-TV.
“We need chain saws, shears to cut iron bars, and jacks to remove beams: everything, we need everything,” civil protection worker Andrea Gentili told the AP.
Fabrizio Curcio, the director of Italy’s civil protection agency, activated national emergency procedures. He said the quake was on par with one in L'Aquilla in 2009 that left more than 300 people dead.
The first earthquake struck around 3:30 a.m. local time near Norcia, a small town roughly 105 miles from Rome, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. No victims were reported there, but the quakes damaged buildings, according to RaiNews24.
“Much of our patrimony is damaged, but there are no victims,” Mayor Nicola Alemanno told RaiNews24. “That is the good news.”
Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, who is heading to the zone later Wednesday, says the immediate priority is to rescue any survivors.
In brief remarks, Renzi thanked rescue workers who dug through debris, some with their bare hands, to reach residents crushed by their homes.
Renzi says that in times of trouble, Italy shows its true face. He says: “No family, no city, no hamlet will be left alone.”