A powerful, shallow M6.2 earthquake struck central Italy at 3:36am local time (1:36 GMT) this morning, just 100 kilometers (65 miles) north-east of Rome.
At the time of writing, 73 people have died and many more are trapped under the rubble in multiple towns and villages, particularly Pescara del Tronto, which was nearly completely leveled.
Twenty people from this village have been taken to hospital, and rescue efforts there and across the region are now in full swing. At least 150 people are declared as being “missing”. The death toll is widely expected to rise over the coming hours and days, and the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in a TV address that he would visit the worst-hit areas later today.
The town of Amatrice was reduced to ashes and rubble during the 20-second-long tremor, and a family of four are feared to have died in nearby Accumoli. A local photographer told reporters that 15 rescuers were using their bare hands trying to reach the family, which included two small children, but to no avail.
“The roads in and out of town are cut off. Half the town is gone. There are people under the rubble. There's been a landslide and a bridge might collapse,” the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, told BBC News. “There are tens of victims, so many under the rubble. We're preparing a place for the bodies.”
Main streets have been left buried under collapsed houses, and six people stuck beneath a collapsed building are currently being extracted by emergency services. In Pescara del Tronto, two boys aged two and seven were pulled alive from the destruction after they had been found sheltering from the quake underneath a bed in their grandmother’s house.
Many historic buildings, along with far more homes, have been destroyed in the region, leaving many injured and homeless. Buildings in the capital swayed, but there are no reports yet of any injuries of fatalities there.
Rescuers search for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed building in Arquata del Tronto, Italy, one of the villages destroyed by the earthquake. Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Image in text: The "shake map" and epicenter of the August 24 quake in central Italy. Red/yellow indicates regions that experienced major ground shaking. USGS