Powerful Earthquakes in Italy Kill Dozens and Shatter Towns
AMATRICE, Italy — Strong earthquakes struck a mountainous stretch of central Italy early Wednesday, killing at least 38 people, trapping scores under debris and setting off tremors that awakened residents in Rome, nearly 100 miles to the southwest.
The first, a 6.2-magnitude earthquake, struck at 3:36 a.m., followed by a 5.5-magnitude temblor at 4:33 a.m., both near the town of Norcia in the Umbria region. Over a three-hour period, about 40 quakes shook the region.
The death toll on Wednesday, reported by the Italian news media, was almost certain to rise, given that scores of people remained unaccounted for. The authorities said the first quake was comparable in intensity to a 2009 earthquake in the Abruzzo region of central Italy that killed more than 300 people.
Towns across three regions — Umbria, Lazio and Marche — were devastated by the quakes, which could be felt as far away as Bologna in the north and Naples in the south. The towns of Accumoli, Amatrice, Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto were reported to be among the most heavily damaged.
“Half the town no longer exists,” said the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, who added that rescue teams were digging through the rubble, “hoping that most people were alive.” The historic center of the town, with buildings dating to the Middle Ages, had been destroyed.
“The problem is removing people from under the rubble,” he said. Asked how many people he thought were still trapped or dead underneath debris, he said, “many, many.”
Mr. Pirozzi added that Amatrice had been cut off because of damage to roads and a bridge, and in a live television broadcast, he appealed for assistance.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, in brief remarks from Rome, said he would head toward the epicenter of the quake later on Wednesday. He thanked rescue workers and volunteers who had dug through debris, some with their bare hands, to reach trapped people, and he said the nation had rallied to help. “No family, no city, no hamlet will be left alone,” he said.
Expressions of solidarity and offers of help poured in from France, Germany, Israel and other countries, as well as from the European Commission.
Ambulances raced back and forth on one of the main roads to Amatrice, where a courtyard in a still-standing palazzo had been turned into an impromptu morgue.