Having not yet recovered from the severe earthquakes of recent months, central Italy was struck by 10 earthquakes in succession over a four-hour period Wednesday, all of them registering over 4.0 on the Richter Scale.
Wednesday’s earthquakes varied in magnitude between 4.1 and 5.7, and several lasted a significant amount of time.
The first quake, measuring 5.3, struck the beleaguered city of Amatrice at 10:25am local time, and the shock waves could be felt in contiguous regions and all the way south in Rome. Amatrice had already been laid waste by a powerful earthquake last August 24, which destroyed the town and left nearly 300 dead. After the quake, the mayor of Amatrice announced: “The town is gone.”
The second quake—the strongest of all—hit just a few miles from the epicenter of the first, 45 minutes later. In all, five of the 10 quakes struck within five miles of Amatrice.
The bell tower of the church of Sant’Agostino was one of the few monuments in Amatrice to survive last summer’s earthquake, but Wednesday’s quakes finished the job, bringing the tower crumbling to the ground.
To add insult to injury, central Italy had been covered with snow prior to the quakes and was suffering from exceptionally cold temperatures.
Civil Protection Chief Fabrizio Curcio said that the wide scope of the tremors, along with the snow, made a comprehensive assessment of the situation difficult. “The situation is quite complicated,” Curcio said. “We are receiving reports from all over the nation. Obviously the quake was felt clearly all over the center, as far as the capital.”
In Rome, children were sent home from school at mid morning, public buildings were evacuated and authorities shut down the subway system.
Wednesday’s seismic activity was the third major event of its kind in Italy in less than half a year. The August 24 earthquake demolished several towns of central Italy, including Amatrice, and three more quakes during the night of Oct 26-27 wreaked still more devastation and displaced thousands of persons.
The biggest earthquakes:
- this month: 7.6 in Puerto Quellón, Los Lagos, Chile
- this year: 7.9 in Kokopo, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea
'Catastrophe' in central Italy on day of four big quakes
The president of Italy's Marche region has talked of a "catastrophe" and appealed for aid as four quakes above magnitude 5 struck in one day.
Luca Ceriscioli said quakes and snow had caused landslides and thousands of families were suffering power cuts, with some villages left isolated.
A man was killed and another reported missing in the nearby Abruzzo region.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker vowed EU solidarity with Italy after the tremors.
Marche was one of the regions worst hit by the earthquake of 24 August, with 46 of its 298 victims losing their lives in a single mountain village there, Pescara del Tronto.
The Lazio region was also affected on Wednesday and the tremors were felt in the capital, Rome.
Amatrice, the Lazio town where 236 of the August deaths were recorded, is close to the epicentre of the new quakes.
The tremors came after some 36 hours of steady snowfall in mountainous areas around Amatrice and Norcia.
The first big quake struck at 10:25 (09:25 GMT) with a magnitude of around 5.3, followed at 11:14 with one of 5.4, followed some 11 minutes later by another of 5.3, the institute said (in Italian).
At 14:33, a fourth quake measuring 5.1 occurred, the institute says.
The first three were around 9km (5.6 miles) in depth, meaning they were dangerously close to the surface, while the fourth was even shallower, at 6.9km deep, according to the US Geological Survey.
"It's a catastrophe," Mr Ceriscioli said, as civil defence leaders met to discuss the response in Marche.
"Today's tremors and the snow of the last days add huge problems, especially on the roads, to the dramatic situation caused by the [August] earthquake.
"The lack of electricity causes serious problems to thousands of families who don't know where to go or to stay."
The priority, he said, was "taking people to safe and warm places".
He appealed for "maximum mobilisation", saying the army was already lending assistance, and called on other parts of Italy to send help to clear the roads and restore power.
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