At least 38 people are dead and hundreds more are injured after a powerful earthquake hit central Italy early Wednesday.
The quake, which occurred at 3:36 a.m. local time, struck towns and villages in the mountainous heart of the country. The terrain and remote location of the affected population centres is making rescue difficult, according to officials with Italy’s Civil Protection Agency.
Because most of the population was asleep at the time, officials say the quake left many people trapped under the rubble. They expect the death toll to rise as they bring in earth-moving equipment and sniffer dogs.
Approximately 27 people had died between the towns of Accumoli and Amatrice alone.
The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.2 with the epicenter just east of Norica, about 170km northeast of Rome. Italy’s earthquake institute (INGV) registered the quake at 6.0 and placed the epicenter further south.
INGV reported 60 aftershocks in the four hours following the quake — the strongest measuring 5.5.
The damage was particularly severe because the quake’s epicenter was a relatively shallow 4km below the surface.
Officials on the ground said the earthquake caused damage to towns in the regions of Umbria, Lazio and Marche.