Italy’s strongest earthquake in decades rocked central parts of the country early Sunday, toppling buildings, sending quake-weary residents into a panic and and forcing closure of the subway system in Rome more than 100 miles away.
The United States Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.6 quake struck at about 7:40 a.m. local time (2:40 a.m. ET) and was centered in Norcia, a town of 5,000 people. Norcia is only about 35 miles from Amatrice, a town devastated by a quake two months ago. The area was also hit by strong aftershocks, including one measuring 6.1, last week that left thousands homeless.
Fabrizio Curcio, head of Italy’s civil protection agency, said early reports indicated about 20 people suffered injuries, none life-threatening.
The earthquake was more powerful than the 6.2 quake that struck Italy in August, killing nearly 300 people and destroying parts of Amatrice and other historic towns. Many people in the mountainous region, located along a fault line, have fled to coastal towns or have been sleeping cars or temporary shelters, afraid their homes could collapse in the night amid the continuing seismic activity.
Premier Matteo Renzi renewed his pledge to rebuild the devastated communities.
“We will rebuild everything,” Renzi said. “We are dealing with marvelous, beautiful territories.”
In Norcia, unconfirmed reports in Italian media said that at least nine people had been pulled alive from the rubble. Buildings were damaged and emergency workers were continuing to check for casualties. However, the USGS said Sunday’s quake was registered at a depth of less than a mile — a distance that is considered extremely shallow and might mean that the destruction could be relatively limited.
“We are trying to learn if people are under the rubble,” said Cesare Spuri, the regional head of civil protection.
Marco Rinaldi, the mayor of the nearby village of Ussita, said there was severe destruction in his area.
“Everything collapsed. I can see columns of smoke, it’s a disaster, a disaster,” he told Italy’s ANSA news agency. “I was sleeping in my car, I saw hell break out.”
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SOURCE: USA Today, Kim Hjelmgaard and John Bacon