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
The quake was shallow, with its focus point (hypocenter) just 10 kilometers (6 miles) beneath the surface. The Guardian reports that people have been running into the streets in the affected towns as up to 39 aftershocks continued to be felt in the early hours of the morning. In fact, a M5.5 tremor struck the same region just an hour after the initial quake.
It’s likely that there will be many more aftershocks that could be almost as intense as the main event within the next days, weeks, and months.
This natural disaster was roughly the same depth – and intensity – of the infamous 2009 Aquila earthquake in central Italy. This tremor, whose focal point was at distance of 90 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Rome, killed 309 people and created a highly controversial legal battle aimed at prosecuting several Italian scientists for failing to adequately predict the quake’s timing and power.
Italy is prone to earthquakes, thanks to its positioning along active fault lines and being in the middle of a titanic battle between two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and African. Essentially, the latter is colliding into the former at a rate of about 2 centimeters (0.79 inches) every year, which builds tension in the region.
In addition, the western Tyrrhenian Sea, between the mainland and Sardinia and Corsica, is slowly spreading apart, which is effectively pulling at the Apennines mountain range than runs through central Italy. There is also a subduction zone in the Adriatic to the east, and all contribute towards very complex earthquakes from time to time.
This particular event was caused by the same extensional faulting within the Apennines that caused the 2009 Aquila earthquake. Unfortunately, earthquakes will continue to occur along this region for the very same reasons for hundreds of generations to come.
If you are in the affected areas and are free to donate blood, please click here to see where the nearest donation point is.
Footage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Amatrice. ILFOGLIETTONE.IT via YouTube
Image in text: Based on the shaking, the USGS estimate that there is a 3 percent chance of between 100 and 1,000 fatalities. USGS