At least 27 dead in Italy quake

6th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake which hit L'Aquila, just 100 kilometres northeast of Rome, left at least 27 dead and 30 missing.

L'AQUILA – A powerful earthquake tore through central Italy on Monday devastating a historic mountain town and killing at least 27 people, authorities said.

Another 30 people were unaccounted for as emergency services scrambled to find victims trapped under hundreds of collapsed homes and buildings and warned that the toll would rise significantly.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared a state of emergency and cancelled a trip to Russia so he could go to the stricken Abruzzo region.

L'Aquila, the medieval capital of Abruzzo, about 100 kilometres northeast of Rome, bore the brunt of the tremor which struck just after 3:30 am. Many of its renaissance-era buildings were badly hit.

The quake measured magnitude 5.8, according to the Italian geophysical institute, while the US Geological Survey said it was 6.3.

The epicentre was just outside L'Aquila and heavy damage was inflicted up to 30 kilometres away in all directions, emergency services told AFP.

Sirens blared across L'Aquila as rescue workers with dogs raced to find people in the rubble. Thousands of the city's 60,000 residents fled into the streets as more than a dozen aftershocks struck.

Some even left the city by foot with belongings in suitcases leaving behind the historic buildings with badly cracked walls and debris strewn across the streets.

Hundreds, some in shock and others sobbing, waited outside L'Aquila's main hospital. Doctors treated people in the open air as only one operating room was functioning.

The city's university hospital was declared off limits for fear it would collapse and the worst victims were being taken by helicopter to other cities.

Police gave a provisional death toll of 27, which included five children in L'Aquila and other towns in the Apennine mountains that run down central Italy, ANSA news agency said. Pope Benedict XVI was praying for the victims, the Vatican said.

L'Aquila suffered the biggest toll. At least one of the dead there was a student killed in the collapse of a dormitory. Other dead were reported in the surrounding towns and villages of Castelnuovo, Poggio Picenze, Tormintarte, Fossa, Totani and Villa Sant'Angelo, said police quoted by ANSA.

Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's public safety department, warned the toll would rise. "It's an event that will mobilise the nation for many weeks," he said, adding that at least 10,000 homes or buildings were damaged in the quake.

Roofs fell in on many houses in the region and boulders blocked several mountain roads.

Residents said the shock lasted 20-30 seconds.

Matthew Peacock, who lives with his wife and child in the Umbrian town of Amelia, near the main quake zone, told Britain's Sky television: "It felt like the house was being shaken from the rooftop – my bed was banging against the wall and you could hear this creaking.

"I rushed across the hallway to my son, who's five, grabbed him and stood underneath the doorway. The shaking went on for 20 seconds or so."

He went on: "The earth really felt like jelly underneath. Dogs outside were making an incredible racket."

Barry Raven, a Briton living in Monte San Marino, 100 kilometres northeast of L'Aquila, said his house shook for about 30 seconds.

"When you felt it you were thinking 'Is this the beginning or is this the end?" he told Sky News.

The epicentre of the quake, which was also felt in Rome, was some five kilometres south of L'Aquila, public safety officials said. The quake was only five kilometres below the surface.

Some 15,000 people suffered a power outage and part of the highway linking L'Aquila to Rome was closed.

The quake came about five hours after a 4.6-magnitude tremor shook the nearby Ravenna district in Emilia-Romagna region, which was felt over a wide area, notably in the Marche region on the Adriatic coast, officials said.

A powerful earthquake in the region claimed 13 lives in 1997 and damaged or destroyed priceless cultural heritage.

Italy is criss-crossed by two fault lines, making it one of Europe's most quake-vulnerable regions, with some 20 million people at risk.

An October 2002 quake killed 30 people including 27 pupils and their teacher who were crushed under their schoolhouse in the tiny medieval village of San Giuliano di Puglia.

On 23 November 1980, a violent quake struck the southern region of Irpiona near Naples, killing 2,570, injuring 8,850 and displacing 30,000.

AFP / Expatica

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