A powerful earthquake that struck central Italy today has left at least 73 people dead, the country’s civil protection unit said.
Immacolata Postiglione, the head of the unit’s emergency department, announced the new toll at a press conference in Rome as rescue efforts continued in the mountain villages devastated by the quake.
A powerful pre-dawn earthquake devastated mountain villages in central Italy, leaving at least 38 people dead and dozens more injured, trapped or missing.
Scores of buildings were reduced to dusty piles of masonry in communities close to the epicentre of the quake, which had a magnitude of between 6.0 and 6.2, according to monitors.
It hit a remote area straddling Umbria, Marche and Lazio, to the north of a region devastated by a quake in 2009, rousing residents and vacationers in terrifying fashion.
Italy’s civil protection unit said in the first official death toll there had been 38 deaths in and around the villages of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto.
“There are still so many people under masonry, so many missing,” said Immacolata Postiglione, the head of the unit’s emergency department.
“My sister and her husband are under the rubble, we’re waiting for diggers but they can’t get up here,” Guido Bordo, 69, told AFP in the tiny village of Illica, near Accumoli.
“There’s no sound from them, we only heard their cats. I wasn’t here, as soon as the quake happened I rushed here. They managed to pull my sister’s children out, they’re in hospital now,” he added, anxiously clasping and unclamping his hands.
Other victims included a nine-month-old baby whose parents survived.
But two other children aged four and seven were saved by their quick-thinking grandmother, who ushered them under a bed as soon as the shaking began, according to reports.
It was Italy’s most powerful earthquake since 2009, when some 300 people died in and around the city of L’Aquila, just to the south of the area hit on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi cancelled a planned trip to France for a meeting with European Socialist leaders and other engagements to oversee the response to the disaster.
“The situation is dramatic, there are many dead,” said Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi. “Half the village has disappeared.”
Pope Francis interrupted his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square to express his shock.
“To hear the mayor of Amatrice say his village no longer exists and knowing that there are children among the victims, is very upsetting for me,” he said.
Civil Protection chief Fabrizio Curcio classed the quake as “severe”. The shocks were strong enough to wake residents of central Rome, some 150 kilometres (90 miles) away.
The worst damage was suffered by Pescara del Tronto, a hamlet near Arquata in the Marche region which “just completely disintegrated” according to local mayor Aleandro Petrucci.
Ten bodies had been recovered there by midday and rescuers were braced for further fatalities.