ROME — A strong earthquake struck central Italy early Wednesday, collapsing homes on top of residents as they slept. At least 10 people were reported dead in two hard-hit towns that were partially demolished.
“The town isn’t here anymore,” Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi said.
The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks.
The hardest-hit towns were Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, some 50 miles northeast of Rome. The center of Amatrice was devastated, with entire palazzos razed to the ground. Rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as aftershocks continued into the early morning hours.
As daylight dawned, residents, civil protection workers and even priests began digging out with shovels, bulldozers and their bare hands, trying to reach survivors.
The Italian Geological service put the magnitude at 6.0. The U.S. Geological Survey reported the magnitude at 6.2 with the epicenter at Norcia, about 105 miles northeast of Rome, and with a relatively shallow depth of six miles.
The mayor of the quake-hit town of Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, said at least six people had died there, including a family of four, and two others. “There are deaths,” he told state-run RaiNews24.
In Amatrice, the ANSA news agency reported two bodies had been pulled from one building. The Rev. Fabio Gammarota told ANSA another three were killed in a separate collapse.
Amatrice Mayor Pirozzi told state-run RAI radio and Sky TG24 that residents were buried under collapsed buildings, that the lights had gone out and that heavy equipment was needed to clear streets clogged with debris.
The office of Premier Matteo Renzi tweeted that heavy equipment was on its way.
In 2009, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck in the same region and killed more than 300 people. The earlier earthquake struck L’Aquila in central Italy, about 55 miles south of the latest quake.
A 1997 quake killed a dozen people in the area and severely damaged one of the jewels of Umbria, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, filled with Giotto frescoes. The Franciscan friars who are the custodians of the basilica reported no immediate damage from Wednesday’s temblor.