Central Italy was hit by an earthquake of 6.6 magnitude, the strongest in three decades, early Sunday morning. Twenty people were injured with no deaths reported so far.
The epicentre of the quake was close to the region where another earthquake killed 300 people in August.
The quake has turned to rubble many old and heritage buildings. Constant aftershocks in the last weeks after the August shake had led to the evacuation of many buildings in the area. People were camping in cars and safer building, which may have saved lives.
The head of the national civil protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio, said many historic buildings were damaged. “About 20 people are injured. As far as people are concerned, the situation is positive, but many buildings are in a critical state in historic centres and there are problems with electricity and water supplies,” he told the BBC.
The medieval basilica of St Benedict in Norcia was completely destroyed.
Pope Francis mentioned the quake in his Sunday blessing in Rome’s St Peter’s Square.
“I’m praying for the injured and the families who have suffered the most damage, as well as for rescue and first-aid workers,” he said, reports the BBC.
The quake tremors were felt in Rome and Venice too. Rome shut down its Metro system.
Italy’s Apennines region has suffered three magnitude-6 tremors in the past three months.
The US Geological Survey put the epicentre of the quake 68km south-east of Perugia and close to the small town of Norcia.
“It was like a bomb went off,” said the town’s deputy mayor, Pierluigi Altavilla.
“We are starting to despair. There are too many quakes now, we can’t bear it anymore.”
The mayor of quake-hit Ussita said a huge cloud of smoke erupted from the crumbled buildings. “It’s a disaster, a disaster!” Mayor Marco Rinaldi told the Ansa news agency. “I was sleeping in the car and I saw hell.”