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Strong earthquake rattles central Italy

ROME: A magnitude 6.2earthquake struck central Italy early Wednesday, levelling buildings in several towns as residents slept.

The quake struck just after 3:30am and was felt across a broad section of central Italy, including the capital Rome where people in homes in the historic center felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. First images of damage showed debris in the street and some collapsed buildings in towns and villages that dot much of the Umbrian countryside.

The European Mediterranean Seismological Center put the magnitude at 6.1. The US Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.2 with the epicenter at Norcia, about 170kilometers (105 miles) northwest of Rome, and with a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles). The hardest-hit towns were reported as Amatrice, Accumoli and Norcia.

The mayor of Amatrice near Rieti, Sergio Pirozzi, told state-run RAI radio and Sky TG24 that residents were buried under collapsed buildings, that the lights had gone out and that heavy equipment was needed to clear streets covered with debris.

“The town isn’t here anymore,” he said.

Italy’s civil protection agency said the earthquake was “severe”. Fire Department spokesman Luca Cari said: “There have been reports of victims” in the quake zone, but he did not have any precise details.

The worst hit towns were believed to be Accumoli, Amatrice, Posta and Arquata del Tronto, Cari told Reuters, adding that helicopters would be sent up at first light to assess the damage.

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