An earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale struck central Italy around 3:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday claiming the lives of at least 37 people, including an elderly couple and two children. A six-year-old child was recovered alive from under the rubble. Around 150 people are reportedly missing. The death toll is expected to rise.
Six people died in Accumoli, five in Amatrice and 11 in Pescara del Tronto, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Several houses, located 2 kms from Rieti, are made of stone and not wood due to which rescue operations have slightly been hindered. Rescuers are still waiting for heavy equipment to arrive. According to CNN, the only way for emergency vehicles to access the village is to "walk with stretchers."
"The biggest problem at the moment (are) logistic problems because it's in central Italy, with really small villages. Now the biggest challenge is to reach all of them. But we can say we are managing," Tommaso Della Longa from the Italian Red Cross told the channel.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis urged everyone to pray for the victims of the earthquake from St. Peter's Square in Rome.
"I'd like us to join together to pray for the victims. Pray together with me for our brothers and sisters," the Pope said.
The deceased elderly couple's house had collapsed at Pescara del Tronto in the Marche region, according to media reports. One other person was reported dead at Accumoli, a village close to the epicentre Rieti. Four people of a family, including two children, were pulled out from under the rubble of a collapsed building in Amatrice.
Meanwhile, the Mayor of Amatrice Sergio Pirozzi has called for urgent help to citizens.
"The town is no more. I have an appeal to make: We have access roads to the town cut off and people under the rubble, help us. We don't have any more (electricity) and it is urgent to clear the access roads," Pirozzi told RAI News.
Italy's National Civil Protection has said that all rescue operations will be coordinated from Rieti, CNN reported.
The shallow quake, which struck at a depth of 10 kms, caused some buildings to shake for about 20 seconds in Rome, the BBC reported citing La Repubblica newspaper. There are reports of buildings having collapsed near the epicentre Rieti, located in the northeast of Rome.
According to the Telegraph, the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre said that the magnitude of the quake was 6.1, while the US Geological Survey (USGS) said that the magnitude was 6.2. According to reports, the strongest tremors were felt in Rome as well.
An aftershock of 5.5 magnitude struck the same region an hour after the initial quake, Reuters reported. Aftershocks are still being felt all across central Italy with people on the streets in several towns including Florence. Firefighters and the police are trying to determine the extent of the damage.
The prime minister's office said that the government was in constant touch with regional heads of the civil protection agency and that rescue teams have been deployed in all the affected areas.
"The situation is very, very bad. The firefighters are not here yet. The parson is trapped on a second floor of a building and we can't get him down. A family with two small children is also trapped under the rubble. It's a disaster, we can't coordinate the relief efforts. I also know of confirmed casualties in Illica," Petrucci was quoted by the Telegraph as saying citing Radio 1.
The mayor added that there are around 400 people in town currently and around 250 houses that had been given to victims of the 2009 Aquila victims are now providing shelter to victims of Wednesday's quake.
"It was so strong. It seemed the bed was walking across the room by itself with us on it," Lina Mercantini, a resident of Ceselli in Umbria, told Reuters.
Olga Urbani, residing in the town of Scheggino, said: "Dear God it was awful. The walls creaked and all the books fell off the shelves."
Mayor of Norcia Nicola Alemanno told RAI that the "anti-seismic structures of the town have held. There is damage to the historic heritage and buildings, but we do not have any serious injuries." Norcia is a city located in Umbria, which is close to the epicentre.
Mayor of Amatrice Pirozzi told state-run RAI Radio 1 that buildings had collapsed in the centre of the city due to the "tragedy" and that the area was facing blackouts. He added that he was not being able to contact emergency responders or reach the hospital, the Telegraph reported.
"There has been a landslide on one road and the other connects us through a bridge that is about to collapse. People are gathering in sports centres... I'm trying to contact the services. The town doesn't exist anymore. The ancient doors have come down. We need help from the civic protection... There is no light, it's all gone off. It's all rubble, it's a tragedy," the mayor further added.
Amatrice, located near Rieti, seems to be one of the worst affected areas besides Accumoli, Posta and Arquata del Tronto. A hospital has reportedly been so severely damaged that patients have been asked to go to hospitals in Rieti for treatment.
The PAGER system of USGS that predicts the impact of earthquakes issued a red alert suggesting significant casualties and damage based on previous quake data, the daily reported.
However, no tsunami alert has been issued. Facebook has also activated the Safety Check Facility on their website for those trapped in the damage.