Pope Francis has said he is “deeply saddened” at the news of the earthquake that struck Italy yesterday.
The pontiff cancelled a scheduled speech to a religious education forum to instead lead a thousands-strong crowd in prayer.
He also sent one-sixth of the Vatican’s tiny fire department to join rescue efforts in central Italy.
The Vatican said six of its firefighters travelled to the town of Amatrice to help civil protection workers look for survivors still under the rubble and assist those already rescued.
The total force of the 108-acre city-state’s fire department numbers 37.
“Hearing the mayor of Amatrice say that the town no longer exists and learning that there are children among the victims, I am deeply saddened,” Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people gathered in St Peter’s Square.
“And thanking all the volunteer and rescue personnel who are assisting these people, I ask you to join me in praying to the Lord Jesus.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan offered his “heartfelt sympathy to the families and friends of those affected by the disaster”.
He added: “The Irish embassy in Rome is monitoring the situation and, to date, has received no confirmation of Irish casualties.”
US president Barack Obama, speaking by telephone to Italian president Sergio Mattarella, said the US sent its thoughts and prayers to the quake victims and he saluted the “quick action” by first responders.
Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo, Greek president Prokopis Pavlopoulos, and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth were among the world leaders to send messages of condolence to Italy.
Several countries, including Russia, Israel, and Poland, offered to send additional rescue workers and equipment, but the Italian co-ordinators of the rescue effort said they had matters in hand.
Anyone with concerns for Irish people in the region can contact the Department of Foreign Affairs on 01 408 2000.
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