ROME, Aug. 23 (UPI) — The death toll continues to grow in central Italy, where a devastating earthquake leveled entire villages and towns and buried residents under mountains of rubble, civil authorities said Wednesday.
The initial magnitude-6.2 earthquake shook Rome and central Italy. The hardest hit towns were Amatrice, Pescara del Tronto and Accumoli, which were close to the epicenter, officials said.
Italian officials said at least 159 people have been killed, according to ANSA, Italy’s national news agency, with dozens more were hurt and more still were missing and unaccounted for. Structural damage from the quake was severe.
“This is not a final toll,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after meeting with search and rescue crews near the epicenter. Renzi rallied workers: “At moments of trouble Italy knows how to cope. No family, no city, no hamlet will be left alone.”
The quake struck at 3:36 a.m. local time with an epicenter 47 miles southeast of Perugia at a depth of 6 miles (10 kilometers) Wednesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Buildings in Rome shook for up to 20 seconds, La Repubblica newspaper reported.
Eight aftershocks occurred after the first quake, with the largest a 5.5 temblor in Umbria, northwest of the initial quake’s epicenter. They are complicating rescue efforts and creating more fear among survivors.
Italy’s state police reported numerous highways in the mountainous region closed due to tunnel collapses, landslides and bridge damage. Some towns are completely cut off from vehicle traffic.
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Most deaths so far have been reported in the Lazio region villages of Accumoli and Amatrice, where at least 28 died. At least 10 people died in the Marche region villages of Arquata and Pescara del Tronto. Thousands remain missing.
Sergio Perozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, said, “Roads in and out of town are cut off. Half the town is gone. There are people under the rubble … There’s been a landslide and a bridge might collapse.”
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Accumoli Mayor Stefano Petrucci told ANSA that all homes in the city are uninhabitable and that a tent city for the “entire population” would have to be set up. At least 2,000 among the displaced are summer vacationers, he said.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is helping coordinate rescue efforts with authorities, the Italian Council of Ministers said in a statement. Italy’s minister of infrastructure and the head of the Italian National Civil Protection Department are expected to travel to affected areas.
“I was deeply saddened by the news of the earthquake that hit central Italy early on Wednesday morning,” European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a letter to Renzi. “My thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims. On behalf of the European Commission and myself personally, please accept our deepest sympathies. We stand, as ever, in solidarity with the Italian nation and are ready to assist in any way we can.”