Quake reduces towns to rubble - Death toll 120 and rising
A strong earthquake in central Italy reduced three towns to rubble as people slept early Wednesday morning, killing at least 120 people and injuring hundreds more as rescue crews raced to dig out survivors with bulldozers and their bare hands.
The toll is likely to rise as crews reached homes in more remote hamlets where the scenes were apocalyptic "like Dante's Inferno", according to one witness. Complicating matters is that the area is a popular vacation spot in summer, with populations swelling, making the number of people in the area at the time difficult to estimate.
Sniffer dogs, earth movers and other heavy equipment are arriving to the quake zone area to help with the rescue efforts and provide for those left homeless by the earthquake.
Tent cities and kitchens were being set up in and around the major towns hit by the magnitude 6 temblor.
"The town isn't here anymore," said Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice. "I believe the toll will rise."
The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m., Italy time, and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome, where residents woke to a long swaying followed by aftershocks. The temblor shook the Lazio region and Umbria and Le Marche on the Adriatic coast.
The hardest-hit towns were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, some 100 kilometres north-east of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto some 25 kilometres further east. Italy's civil protection agency, which was coordinating the rescue, said the provisional toll was 120 dead with several hundred injured and thousands in need of temporary housing, though it stressed that the numbers were fluid.
The centre of Amatrice was devastated, with entire blocks of buildings razed and the air thick with dust and smelling strongly of gas. Amatrice, birthplace of the famed spaghetti all'amatriciana bacon-tomato pasta sauce, is made up of 69 hamlets that rescue teams were working to reach.
Rocks and metal tumbled on to the streets of the city centre, and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as more than 40 aftershocks jolted the region into the early-morning hours, some as strong as 5.1.
"The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me," said resident Maria Gianni. "I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn't hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg."
Another woman, sitting in front of her destroyed home with a blanket over her shoulders, said she didn't know what had become of her loved ones.
"It was one of the most beautiful towns of Italy and now there's nothing left," she said, too distraught to give her name. "I don't know what we'll do."
As the August sun bared down, residents, civil protection workers, and even priests dug with shovels, bulldozers and their bare hands to reach survivors. Dozens were pulled out alive: There was relief as a woman emerged on a stretcher from one building, followed by a dog.
'WE NEED EVERYTHING'
"We need chainsaws, shears to cut iron bars, and jacks to remove beams - everything, we need everything," civil-protection worker Andrea Gentili told the Associated Press. Italy's national blood drive association appealed for donations to Rieti's hospital.
But just a few kilometres to the north, in Illica, the response was slower as residents anxiously waited for loved ones to be extracted from the rubble.
"We came out to the piazza, and it looked like Dante's Inferno," said Agostino Severo, a Rome resident visiting Illica. "People crying for help, help. Rescue workers arrived after one hour ... one and a half hours."
The devastation harked back to the 2009 quake that killed more than 300 people in and around L'Aquila, about 90 kilometre, south of the latest quake. The town, which still has not bounced back fully, sent emergency teams yesterday to help with the rescue.
"I don't know what to say. We are living this immense tragedy," said a tearful Rev Savino D'Amelio, a parish priest in Amatrice. "We are only hoping there will be the least number of victims possible and that we all have the courage to move on."
In Pescara del Tronto, in the Le Marche region, the main road was covered in debris.
Residents were digging their neighbours out by hand since emergency crews had not yet arrived in force. Photos taken from the air by regional firefighters showed the town essentially flattened; Italy requested EU satellite images of the whole area to get the scope of the damage.
"Quakes with this magnitude at this depth in our territory in general create building collapses, which can result in deaths," said the head of Italy's civil protection service, Fabrizio Curcio.