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EghtesadOnline: A powerful earthquake hit central Italy in the middle of the night, destroying small mountain towns and burying victims in the rubble of collapsed buildings. At least 21 people were killed and as many as 100 were reported to be missing, according to Sky TG24.

The quake struck at 3:36 a.m., the Department of Civil Protection said in a statement Wednesday. The death toll has continued to climb throughout the morning as rescuers search for survivors and bodies amid the debris of small mountain towns in the regions of Lazio, Umbria and Marche, reports Bloomberg.

The 6.2-magnitude tremor hit at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) around 43 kilometers from the town of Rieti, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Shaking was felt in buildings in Rome and there were a series of aftershocks reported. Relief efforts were hampered by damage to radio and satellite links damaged, Civil Protection said.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has contacted the governor of Marche, Luca Ceriscioli, to ensure his support and solidarity, the Ansa news agency reported. The quake and its aftermath may further complicate Renzi’s efforts to put the country back on a stable economic path. Renzi already is facing a make-or-break referendum on constitutional reform in the autumn.

 

Italian President

Italian President Sergio Mattarella has been in close contact with the Civil Protection Service since the early hours of the morning and is returning to Rome from Palermo, Sicily, according to a statement from his office. Lazio’s regional president, Nicola Zingaretti, described the situation as an “incredible catastrophe” and urged people to not to clog the main relief routes.

Sky television showed images of collapsed buildings throughout the historical center of Amatrice, with a population of about 2,500, around 140 kilometers northeast of Rome. Relief crews and residents were shown searching through the rubble as injured victims were taken away in stretchers. RAI News agency said buildings had collapsed in the regions of Lazio, Umbria and Marche. The civil protection service has yet to give any official count of the victims.

The road leading to Amatrice was filled with cracks and littered with boulders as people, some still in their pajamas, were still streaming away from the worst-hit areas at mid-morning. In the village of Pescara del Tronto, at least 100 people were missing, Sky quoted news agency AGI as saying. At least one child was rescued from the rubble.

"The houses are gone and people are under, there are likely dead,” Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi told Sky TG24. "Please help us, the roads are closed, please."

The mayor of Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, told RAI at least four people -- a family with two children -- were trapped under rubble there and the town had no power. At least one person was killed, he said.

An earthquake in 2009 killed more than 300 people near the city of L’Aquila, about 113 kilometers southeast of Amatrice. Those tremors, the country’s deadliest in almost three decades, damaged thousands of buildings in and around the medieval city of L’Aquila and caused billions of euros in damage.

Italy Earthquake