The death toll from the earthquake that hit central Italy has risen to 247, Italy's civil protection agency announced last night.
Prime minister Matteo Renzi spoke in the provincial capital of Rieti after visiting rescue crews and survivors in the hard-hit town of Amatrice.
He also flew over other demolished towns in the nearby Le Marche region.
Mr Renzi said 34 people had died in Le Marche, the rest from the other towns.
He also said the identification of quake bodies was a difficult process.
The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3.36am local time yesterday and was felt across a broad swathe of central Italy, including Rome, where residents woke to swaying followed by aftershocks.
Hardest-hit were the tiny towns of Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, 130km north-east of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto further east.
The area is a popular holiday spot in the summer, with populations swelling, making the number of people in the area at the time difficult to estimate.
The centre of Amatrice was devastated, with entire blocks of buildings razed and the air thick with dust and smelling strongly of gas. Amatrice is made up of 69 hamlets that rescue teams were working to reach.
Rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets of the city centre and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as more than 40 aftershocks jolted the region into the early morning hours, some as strong as 5.1.
“The town isn’t here any more,” said Sergio Pirozzi, mayor of Amatrice. “I believe the toll will rise.”
“The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me,” said resident Maria Gianni. “I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn’t hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg.”
Another woman, sitting in front of her destroyed home with a blanket over her shoulders, said she did not know what had become of her loved ones. “It was one of the most beautiful towns of Italy and now there’s nothing left,” she said. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”
Residents, civil protection workers, and even priests dug with shovels, bulldozers, and their bare hands to get survivors. Dozens were pulled out alive: There was relief as a woman emerged on a stretcher from one building, followed by a dog.
“We need chainsaws, shears to cut iron bars, and jacks to remove beams: Everything, we need everything,” said civil protection worker Andrea Gentili. Italy’s national blood drive association appealed for donations to Rieti’s hospital.
To the north, in Illica, the response was slower as residents anxiously waited for loved ones to be extracted from the rubble.
“We came out to the piazza, and it looked like Dante’s Inferno,” said Agostino Severo, a Rome resident visiting Illica. “People crying for help, help. Rescue workers arrived after one hour... one and a half hours.”
Ryan Sloan, a lawyer based in Glasgow, described the moment the earthquake woke him in Rome as the “most terrifying moment” of his life.
The devastation harked back to the 2009 quake that killed more than 300 people in and around L’Aquila, about 90km south of the latest quake. The town, which still has not bounced back fully, sent emergency teams yesterday to help with the rescue.
Another hard-hit town was Pescara del Tronto, in the Le Marche region, where the main road was covered in debris.
Residents were digging their neighbours out by hand since emergency crews had not yet arrived in force. Photos taken from the air by firefighters showed the town essentially flattened; Italy requested EU satellite images of the whole area to get the scope of the damage.
“Quakes with this magnitude at this depth in our territory in general create building collapses, which can result in deaths,” said the head of Italy’s civil protection service, Fabrizio Curcio. He said the region is popular with tourists escaping the heat of Rome, with more residents than at other times, and a single building collapse could raise the toll significantly.
- Linda McGrory
The 6.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Italy early yesterday was picked up by a seismic activity station in Co Wexford.
The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) maintains the Irish National Seismic Network at six locations around the country.
It said that the tremors began registering at the Wexford station several minutes after the Italian earthquake occurred.
“An earthquake of magnitude 6.2 occurred in the Lazio region of Central Italy, on Wednesday, August 24, 2016, at 01.36am (03.36am local time),” DIAS said in a statement.
“Many aftershocks have occurred since the main shock whose epicentre lies 38km north west of that of the April 6, 2009, l’Aquila earthquake (magnitude 6.3).
“The first arrival at INSN was recorded at the IWEX (Wexford) seismic station at 01:40:25 UTC.”
Global and domestic seismic data has been recorded in Ireland since 1978.
There are currently six permanent broadband seismic recording stations around the country. They are located in the Dublin Mountains; Carrickbyrne Hill, Co Wexford; Inch Island, Inishowen, Co Donegal; Oughterard, Co Galway; the Cooley Peninsula, Co Louth, and Valentia Observatory, Co Kerry.
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