AMATRICE, ITALY – The death toll from a devastating earthquake in central Italy rose to at least 247 people early on Thursday after rescue teams worked through the night to try to find survivors under the rubble of flattened towns.
The magnitude-6.2 quake struck mountain communities 140 km (85 miles) northeast of Rome at 3:36 a.m. on Wednesday as people slept, destroying hundreds of homes. It was relatively shallow at 4 km (2.5 miles) below the surface.
Italy sits on two fault lines, making it one of the most seismically active countries in Europe.
The provisional death toll jumped to 247 from the 159 listed on Wednesday night, the Civil Protection department said. Officials expected the figure to rise further.
Trucks full of rubble left the area every few minutes, including one in which a dusty doll lay atop tons of debris.
Hundreds of aftershocks shook the area. On Thursday, the sun rose on frightened people who had slept in cars or tents, the earth continuing to tremble under their feet. Two aftershocks registered 5.1 and 5.4 just before dawn.
The earthquake was powerful enough to be felt in Bologna to the north and Naples to the south, both more than 220 km (135 miles) from the epicenter.
The populations of the four worst-hit towns — Amatrice, Pescara del Tronto, Arquata del Tronto and Accumoli — increase by up to tenfold in the summer, and many of those killed or missing were visitors. Aerial video taken by drones showed swaths of Amatrice, which last year was voted one of Italy’s most beautiful historic towns, completely flattened.
About 270 people injured in Wednesday’s quake were hospitalized, the Civil Protection department said. About 5,000 people — including police, firefighters, army troops and volunteers — were involved in post-quake operations.
Rescuers working with emergency lighting in the darkness saved a 10-year-old girl, pulling her alive from the rubble where she had lain for 17 hours in Pescara del Tronto.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Cabinet was meeting on Thursday to decide on emergency measures to help the affected communities. “Today is a day for tears. Tomorrow we can talk of reconstruction,” he told reporters late Wednesday.
The death toll appeared likely to surpass that from the last major earthquake to strike Italy, which killed more than 300 people in the central city of L’Aquila in 2009.
While hopes of finding more people alive diminished by the hour, firefighters’ spokesman Luca Cari recalled that survivors were found in L’Aquila up to 72 hours after that quake.
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