- The first earthquake, measuring 5.4, hit central northern Italy at 7.10pm local time
- The second devastating quake – measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale – followed two hours later
- The epicentre was in countryside 80 miles from Rome and historic buildings were felt shaking in the capital
- Buildings have collapsed in the worst hit towns of Visso, Ussita and Castel Santangelo Sul Nera
- Heavy rain is hampering efforts to assess damage and locate casualties and aftershocks are still being felt
- Thousands of people spent the night in their cars as it was too late to set up adequate shelter
- The quakes follows the deadly August earthquake in central Italy that killed almost 300 people
Published: 12:31 EST, 26 October 2016 | Updated: 09:25 EST, 27 October 2016
The moment a historic church crumbled to the ground after two powerful earthquakes rocked central Italy on Wednesday has been captured by TV news cameras.
A crew for Italian state broadcaster RAI were standing in front of a late 14th century church, San Salvatore a Campi di Norcia, when its rose-windowed facade was reduced to rubble. The crew was forced to run for safety as clouds of dust engulfed its cameras.
The earthquakes devastated many historic buildings and left thousands homeless, two months after a quake that killed nearly 300 people hit the same region.
The first tremor measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale came at 7.10pm local time on Wednesday, near Visso in Macerata province.
The second quake, measuring 6.1, came two hours later, wiping out buildings and plunging homes into darkness. It was felt as far away as Venice in the far north, Naples in the south and the capital, Rome, where historic buildings are reported to have shaken, 80 miles away from the epicentre near Perugia.
On August 24, a 6.2-magnitude quake struck just 45 miles away from Wednesday’s quake. The latest two were probably a result of August’s seismic break, Massimiliano Cocco from Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology said.
‘It’s never ending. These damned earthquakes won’t leave us alone!,’ restaurateur Linda Cappa said as she handed out pastries, hot coffee and juice to the traumatised residents of Ussita, close to the quake’s epicentre, in the early hours of the morning.
Elderly villager Bruno recounted how he had headed straight for his car as soon as the first one struck. Experience had told him he had to get out of his house.
‘The second one was much, much stronger than the first,’ he said. ‘It seemed like it was going to go on for ever.
‘I thought my car was going to be turned over. It’s a disaster. What on earth is going on under our feet?’
Dozens of people sustained minor injuries but no one is believed to have died. ‘Given the strength of the shocks the absence of any deaths or serious injuries, which we hope will be confirmed, is miraculous,’ Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.
The national civil protection agency described the damage as ‘very significant’ but said they were not aware of anyone trapped under rubble.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said that a decree now being voted on by parliament to pay for the immediate costs of the August tremor could be extended to cover the latest series of quakes.
Thousands of people ran out into the streets screaming after the first tremor. The fact that the first earthquake was weaker than the second probably helped save lives because most people had already left their homes, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said on state radio.
Authorities began surveying the quake-stricken zone at daybreak as a series of small aftershocks continue to shake the mountainous region.
Bad weather hammered the area on Wednesday and there are now fears the torrential rain and unstable ground could lead to devastating landslides.
Visso is about 45 miles north of Amatrice where around 270 were killed on August 24 when a 6.2-magnitude quake struck.
La Repubblica reports the quakes have caused Amatrice’s City Hall to completely collapse after it previously managed to withstand August’s disaster.
Visso is also not far from L’Aquila where a powerful earthquake killed more than 300 in 2009.
Italy’s national volcanology center said two smaller quakes registered magnitudes above 4 before dawn Thursday, centered near Macerata in the Marche region, while dozens of smaller ones were recorded in the area overnight.
Many residents of Campi, a town of about 200, slept in their cars as aftershocks rocked the Umbria, Marche and Lazio regions throughout the night.
‘I can’t shake off the fear,’ said Mauro Viola, 64, who said he had not sleep and had spent the night outside.
Police had blocked off the road to his home with a park bench, and Viola said a chapel beyond his house had collapsed.
Rescue workers set up some 50 beds in a quake-proof building for people who could not sleep in their homes.
‘The first tremor damaged buildings, with the second one we had collapses,’ fire department official, Rosario Meduri, said.
He had come from southern Italy before Wednesday’s tremors to help secure structures damaged by the August earthquake that hit to the south.
While massive boulders that tumbled down the valley had yet to be cleared from the roads, on the whole there was a sense of relief.
The head of Italy’s civil protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio, said so far they had only heard of one fatality – a 73-year-old man who died of a heart attack.
He said some people were treated for slight injuries at hospitals in the regions of Umbria and Le Marche.
Mr Curcio said: ‘All told, the information so far is that it’s not as catastrophic.’
‘THE UNENDING NIGHTMARE’: HOW MAJOR EARTHQUAKES HAVE PLAGUED ITALY
– Dec 28, 1908 – More than 82,000 people are killed in a 7.2 magnitude earthquake which reduces Sicily’s second largest city Messina to rubble and damages the city of Reggio Calabria across the straits on the mainland.
– Jan 13, 1915 – Some 32,600 are killed when an earthquake measuring 7.0 strikes Avezzano in central Italy.
– July 27, 1930 – A quake measuring 6.5 strikes the region of Irpinia in southern Italy, killing around 1,400 people.
– May 6, 1976 – An earthquake measuring 6.5 rocks Friuli in Italy’s northeastern corner, killing 976 people and leaving 70,000 others homeless.
– Nov. 23, 1980 – Some 2,735 people are killed and more than 7,500 injured in an earthquake measuring 6.5. The epicentre was at Eboli but damage was reported over a huge area towards Naples.
– Dec. 13, 1990 – Earthquake centred in the sea off Sicily kills 13 people and injures 200.
– Sept. 26, 1997 – Two earthquakes measuring 6.4 kill 11 people and cause serious damage to the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, damaging priceless Medieval frescoes.
– July 17, 2001 – Earthquake measuring 5.2 shakes the northern Italian region of Alto Adige, killing one woman.
– Oct. 31, 2002 – An earthquake measuring 5.9 hits Campobasso, south-central Italy, killing 30 people, most of them children, in San Giuliano di Puglia.
– April 6, 2009 – A powerful earthquake strikes the Abruzzo area east of Rome. It kills more than 300 people and devastates the 13th century city of L’Aquila.
– May 29, 2012 – More than 16 people are killed and 350 injured in the second big earthquake to hit the area around Modena in northern Italy. An earlier quake nine days earlier killed nearly 10 people.
– Aug 24, 2016 – A devastating earthquake brought down buildings in mountainous central Italy early, killing almost 300 people and leaving thousands homeless. One of the worst hit towns was Amatrice. The disaster caused an estimated four billion euros ($4.5 billion) of damage, with 1,400 people still living in temporary accommodation.
But the Mayor of the town of Ussita, Marco Rinaldi, said on Wednesday: ‘It was a very strong earthquake, apocalyptic. People are screaming on the street and now we are without lights.
‘Many houses have collapsed. Our town is finished.’
Rinaldi said: ‘The second quake was a long, terrible one.’
‘I’ve felt a lot of earthquakes but that was the strongest I’ve ever felt. Fortunately everyone had already left their homes after the first quake so I don’t think anyone was hurt,’ Rinaldi said.
Italian television channels broadcast images of collapsed buildings and people standing dazed in front of their ruined houses.
Across the region, hospitals, a university residence, a retirement home and even a prison had to be evacuated.
‘Tonight we’re going to go. But tomorrow I don’t know. The tents, I can’t go there, it’s too cold,’ a resident of Visso said on television.
For people who are unable to return home immediately, civil protection has arranged accommodation in gyms and prepared to reopen some of the tent camps which were set up after the August earthquake.
The president of Umbria region, Catiuscia Marini, told RAI state television that officials are scrambling to come up with temporary housing.
‘I want to thank those working in the rain in the earthquake zones. All of Italy is wrapping its arms around the communities that have been hit once again,’ Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tweeted.
In Rome, the quakes rattled windows and doors. The imposing foreign ministry headquarters was temporarily evacuated.
The mayor of Serravalle del Chienti, Gabriele Santamarianova, said the quake felt ‘like bombs were falling’.
‘We saw a cloud of dust, we don’t yet know what has fallen down. We’ll see once the sun comes up.’
The epicenter of both tremors was registered in the Valnerina valley, a mountainous area between the cities of Macerata and Perugia, the capital of the Umbria region, about 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the Stadio Adriatico.
US Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle said of the area: ‘They have a lot of old buildings that weren’t constructed at a time with modern seismic (building) codes.’
One Twitter user in Italy, Sofia, wrote: ‘I’m so scared of these earthquakes don’t think i’ll sleep tonight #Terremoto.’
The mayor of nearby Castel Santangelo Sul Nera, Mauro Falcucci, said last night: ‘We’re without power, waiting for emergency crews. We can’t see anything. It’s tough. Really tough.’
He said some buildings had collapsed but there were no immediate reports of any fatalities. But he said the darkness, and heavy rain, were impeding the search.
Rescuers gather in the village of Visso after pair of powerful aftershocks shook central Italy last night, not far from the area where a quake killed 300 in August
The epicentre of the first earthquake was Castel Santangelo Sul Nera, near Perugia, but two more powerful aftershocks hit the area, one of them centred on Visso
A section of motorway north of Rome was closed due to a landslide, said Ornella De Luca, from Italy’s civil protection agency.
Italy’s National Vulcanology Centre said the epicentre was in Castel Santangelo Sul Nera, 50 miles from Perugia in the central spine of Italy, which has traditionally been prone to quakes, known in Italian as terremoto.
A Facebook post from the town said: ‘One of the worst-affected municipalities, numerous collapses, all the people currently in the street (about 300 people).’
Arcangelo Vicedomini, a software developer in Nettuno, near Rome, tweeted: ‘Earthquake in Italy, 5.6 Richter, epicenter 66 km south of Perugia. In it was feeled well. In Nettuno chandeliers are dancing [sic].’
Vanda Wilcox tweeted: ‘Another big earthquake. Epicentre near Perugia, made the house shake hugely here, frightened us enough to get baby up & go out #Terremoto.’
But the US Geological Survey said the quakes had a depth of only seven miles, which is relatively shallow.
A match between Pescara and Atalanta in Serie A was halted for four minutes when the second earthquake hit, causing panic as the stands shook for more than 10 seconds.
Many spectators left the Stadio Adriatico in Pescara but the game resumed and the visitors went on to win 1-0.
Pescara defender Hugo Campagnaro said: ‘At the time we didn’t realise anything, because we were moving. Then, once we heard the fans shouting and saw people leaving, we understood.’
Atalanta’s Mattia Caldara said: ‘We didn’t feel anything on the pitch. But my teammates told me that the substitutes’ bench shook.’
In their first editions Thursday morning, several Italian newspapers headlined ‘The unending nightmare’.
August’s disaster caused an estimated four billion euros ($4.5 billion) of damage, with 1,400 people still living in temporary accommodation.