Powerful earthquake struck at 3.36am local time on Wednesday
At least 247 are confirmed dead, with hundreds more injured
Thousands are homeless and others are still missing
A string of quiet Italian villages nestled in the Apennine mountains were destroyed in a massive earthquake on Wednesday. The quake killed at least 247 people and injured hundreds more. It left thousands homeless and others still missing as rescuers scoured the rubble – homes and schools, churches and convents – for signs of life.
“It was a ‘boom’ — but it was noise you felt through your bones, rather than heard,” said 19-year-old student Alessio Serrafini, sitting stunned on a park bench in the town of Amatrice, about 130km northeast of Rome, recounting the moment when the quake hit.
Terrified survivors, some of them having escaped clad only in underwear or pyjamas, have spent hours outdoors, first huddling in blankets in the predawn chill, then sweltering in the afternoon heat.
Emergency workers, though hampered by quake-buckled roads, rushed in earthmoving equipment and sniffer dogs to hunt for survivors. At first, before they arrived, people dug through the rubble with bare hands, listening for cries from those trapped below.
Italian emergency personnel set up shelters and urged quake victims to come away and try to rest, but many remained glued to the scene of collapsed structures, where the sound of heavy equipment and the shouts of rescuers echoed into the evening.
Aerial photographs showed the scope of devastation, grey dust and piles of masonry replacing what had been quaint medieval streets and piazzas.
Onlookers made the sign of the cross as rescuers pulled bodies from the rubble, loading them onto doors and planks that served as makeshift stretchers. A church’s garden became a temporary morgue, with rows of corpses covered with bloodstained sheets.
Amid the wreckage, there were small victories. Ten hours after the quake, two small children were pulled still breathing from the ruins of a house in Amatrice – one an infant, the other a toddler in diapers. Gentle waiting hands loaded them carefully onto stretchers before they were rushed to a waiting helicopter.
Amatrice is a small town centre surrounded by dozens of tiny villages. It draws visitors ranging from well-to-do Romans who own vacation homes to backpackers from across Europe on summer holidays. This weekend, the town was to have held an big annual festival in honour of the pasta dish named for it, spaghetti all’amatriciana.
Instead, survivors sat shell-shocked on cracked pavement, alternately hugging one another and sending off rapid-fire texts.
The quake’s epicentre was relatively shallow, magnifying its destructive power. The US Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.2, while Italy’s geological observatory measured it at magnitude 6.0.
Italy is in an earthquake zone, and the last major quake was in 2009, in the central city of L’Aquila, about 80km south of Wednesday’s quake zone. It killed more than 300 people.