Rome: Central Italy was hit by a powerful, 6.2-magnitude earthquake on Wednesday, triggering the collapse of dozens of buildings and a red alert for the possibility of casualties and further damage.
Witnesses in the area told Italian media that many buildings had collapsed in villages close to the epicentre of the quake near the town of Norcia in the region of Umbria.
“Half the village has disappeared,” said Sergio Pirozzi, mayor of Amatrice, a mountain village in neighbouring Lazio that was packed with visitors at the peak of the summer season.
He said access to the village had been blocked, making it impossible for rescue services to get through.
“There is a landslide on one road, a bridge is about to collapse on the other one,” he said, quoted by the AGI news agency.
Amatrice is famous in Italy as a beauty spot and is a popular holiday destination for Romans seeking cool mountain air at the height of the summer.
There were no immediate reports of casualties after the first quake, which struck shortly after 3.30 am (0130 GMT), according to the United States Geological Survey, or a 5.4 magnitude aftershock an hour later.
USGS’s PAGER system, which predicts the impact of earthquakes, issued a red alert — suggesting significant casualties and damage based on previous quake data.
A resident of the Rieti region, which is between Rome and the epicentre of the quake, told the Rainews24 channel that she and most of her neighbours had come out onto the street after feeling “very strong shaking”.
In 2009 a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in the Aquila region, which was also felt in the Italian capital, left more than 300 dead.
Italy is often shaken by earthquakes. Another quake hit the northern Emilia Romagna region in May 2012, when two violent shocks 10 days apart left 23 people dead and 14,000 others homeless.