Earthquakes caused widespread damage and terrified residents in central Italy overnight, two months after a strong quake left nearly 300 dead and razed villages in the same area, but no-one was killed.
Several people were slightly injured, but only a few needed hospital treatment, the Civil Protection Agency said.
In Visso, one of the larger hill towns hit, the mayor said most of the damage had been to buildings already weakened by the Aug. 24 earthquake.
"The situation is ugly and you can see the noticeable damage, but luckily I can say it's better than it looks. We don't have victims or seriously injured people or anyone missing," Giuliano Pazzaglini said.
The quake was nonetheless a shock to a town that had started to work on rebuilding after the last tremor, Pazzaglini said, and the hours following it were full of anxiety for people in the border area of the Marche and Umbria regions.
Many people slept in their cars. In Campi, a town of about 200, rescue workers set up some 50 beds in a quake-proof building for people who could not sleep in their homes.
"I can't shake off the fear," said Mauro Viola, 64, who said he had not slept and had spent the night outside.
"I am afraid to see what my house looks like."
Police had blocked off the road to his home with a bench, and Viola said a chapel nearby had collapsed.
Boulders tumbled down the valley into roads around Visso. Officials restricted access to its historic center, awakening grim memories of the leveling of the hilltop town of Amatrice in August.
"The only time I have cried today was when I wasn't allowed to go into the historic center," said Visso restaurateur Elena Zabuchynska, 43.
"I thought of Amatrice, all fallen down, and I thought our city center might look like Amatrice."
The three main overnight quakes came about two hours apart. Close to Visso, the rose-windowed facade of a late 14th century church, San Salvatore a Campi di Norcia, was reduced to rubble.
The first tremor measured magnitude 5.4, causing many people to flee their homes and the second was stronger at 6.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
A 4.9 aftershock came a couple hours after that, and dozens of weaker ones followed.
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Secretary Ash Carter confirmed the US would also send tanks, explosive experts and engineers. ‘This was a decision made by the alliance leaders in Warsaw. The US will lead a battalion in Poland and deploy an entire, battle-ready battalion task force of approximately 900 soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment based in Germany. ‘We will send a headquarters elements, three Stryker Maneuvers with mobile gun systems, artillery battery as well as any tank, explosive ordinance disposal or engineer capabilities.’
Short-notice military exercises and forthcoming deployments will help NATO fill gaps in its air and missile defenses as it revamps its approach to deter Russia in eastern Europe, a top US general said.
This week, for instance, some 100 US forces received "shock" orders to move a Patriot missile defense system from Germany to Romania by rail for a joint exercise to be carried out in early November with 100 Romanian soldiers.
Britain, the United States and other NATO allies — responding to Russia's military expansion — are bolstering forces and equipment in eastern Europe under NATO's biggest buildup on Russia's borders since the Cold War.
Russia, meanwhile, is beefing up its warship presence in the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean, after stationing nuclear-capable Islander missiles in Kaliningrad, Russia's enclave between Poland and Lithuania.
Given the increased threat from Russia, McGuire said the United States and its allies were working urgently to improve coordination among aging air and missile defense systems of the east European allies. Some still use Soviet-era equipment dating from their time in the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.