At least 120 dead as strong quake strikes central Italy

Doug Stanglin and Eric J. Lyman — USA TODAY August 24, 2016

A powerful earthquake that toppled homes, churches and shops in numerous medieval towns in central Italy Wednesday killed at least 120 people, according to Italian Premier Matteo Renzi.

Dozens more are missing or feared dead from the magnitude-6.2 earthquake and a series of aftershocks that jolted Umbria, Lazio and Le Marche, three regions some 80 to 100 miles northeast of Rome.

Renzi spoke Wednesday evening in the provincial capital of Rieti after flying over the Le Marche region and visiting first responders and survivors the picturesque town of Amatrice, one of the hardest hit.

There was no immediate breakdown of the death toll, but the Italian news agency ANSA reported at least 35 dead in Amatrice, 11 in Accumoli, near Rieti, and 17 in the province of Ascoli Piceno, which includes Pescara del Tronto. Renzi reported 35 dead in Le Marche.

Much of city center of Amatrice was covered with metal and rock debris that collapsed in the initial quake and aftershocks. Resident of this picturesque medieval town of around 3,000 people gathered in the piazzas, dazed by the quake and fearful of more temblors.

“The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me,” said resident Maria Gianni, according to the AP. “I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn’t hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg.”

The Vatican sent a six-man team from the Vatican City State’s fire squad to Amatrice early Thursday. A statement said the decision was taken as a “sign of the pope’s concrete proximity to the people affected by the quake.”

In some towns, rescue teams alternated bulldozers with bare hands to dig through piles of rubble looking for claw through piles of rubble for possible survivors as authorities warned the death toll is likely to rise.

Mayor Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, told the Associated Press that rescue teams are trying to reach all 69 hamlets around his town.

“Half of the town doesn’t exist anymore,”  Pirozzi told RAI-TV. “People are stuck underneath the rubble. Houses are no longer there.”

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