As reported earlier, at 7:10pm on Wednesday central Italy was shaken by a strong, shallow 5.4 magnitude quake which was felt as far away as Rome.
However it was an aftershock which struck two hours later at 9:18 pm, and which was 8 times stronger and measured M6.1 according to the USGS, likewise striking at a shallow, 10-km depth, which brought up vivid memories of the August 24 earthquake which destroyed the hilltop village of Amatrice and other nearby towns, leading to 300 casualties. It was the second quake which according to AP resulted in crumbling churches and buildings, knocking out power and sending panicked residents into the rain-drenched streets.
One person was injured in the epicenter of Visso, where the rubble of collapsed buildings tumbled into the streets. But the Civil Protection agency, which initially reported two injured, had no other immediate reports of injuries or deaths. Because many residents had already left their homes after the first one struck just after 7pm., with plans to spend the night in their cars or elsewhere, they weren't home when the second one hit two hours later, possibly saving lives, news reports said.
“It was a very strong, apocalyptic earthquake – people were screaming in the street, and now the lights are cut off,” said Marco Rinaldi, the mayor of Ussita, a community of 400 that was also affected by the earthquake. “Many houses have collapsed. Our town is finished."
Speaking to Sky TG24, Rinaldi said that "the facade of the church collapsed. By now I have felt many earthquakes. This is the strongest of my life. It was something terrible. The second quake was a long, terrible one.'
The mayor said two elderly people were rescued from their home, where they were trapped. He said they appeared to be in good condition. Some 200 people in Ussita will sleep in the streets, given the impossibility of putting up tents in the night.
Rubble covers a car in Castel Santangelo Sul Nera but the full extent of the
damage will not be clear until daybreak
A church crumbled in the ancient Perugian town of Norcia, famed for its Benedictine monastery and its cured meats. A bell-tower damaged on Aug. 24 fell and crushed a building in Camerino, the ANSA news agency said. Elsewhere, buildings were damaged, though many were in zones that were declared off-limits after the Aug. 24 quake that flattened parts of three towns.
This medieval church has been destroyed by tonight's quakes
"We're without power, waiting for emergency crews," said Mauro Falcucci, the mayor of Castelsantangelo sul Nera, near the epicenter. Speaking to Sky TG24, he said: "We can't see anything. It's tough. Really tough." He said some buildings had collapsed, but that there were no immediate reports of injuries in his community. He added that darkness and a downpour were impeding a full accounting.
Experts say even relatively modest quakes that have shallow depths can cause significant damage because the seismic waves are closer to the surface. But seismologist Gianluca Valensise said a 10-kilometer depth is within the norm for an Apennine temblor.
Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi said residents felt Wednesday's aftershocks but "We are thanking God that there are no dead and no injured."
Wednesday's temblors were felt from Perugia in Umbria to the capital Rome as far north as Veneto. It also shook the central Italian city of L'Aquila, which was struck by a deadly quake in 2009. The mayor of L'Aquila, however, said there were no immediate reports of damage there.
A section of a major state highway north of Rome, the Salaria, was closed near Arquata del Tronto as a precaution because of a quake-induced landslide, said a spokeswoman for the civil protection agency, Ornella De Luca.
The mayor of Arquata del Tronto, Aleandro Petrucci, said the aftershocks felt stronger than the August quake, which devastated parts of his town. But he said there were no reports of injuries to date and that the zone hardest hit by the last quake remained uninhabitable.
"We don't worry because there is no one in the red zone, if something fell, walls fell," he said.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi returned from a trip inside the country to chair an emergency meeting in Rome, and has canceled a planned TV appearance.
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Perhaps the biggest threat is that today's quakes were actually aftershocks of the magnitude 6.2 earthquake from two months ago. Because they were so close to the surface, they have the potential to cause more shaking and more damage, "coupled with infrastructure that's vulnerable to shaking," said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle.
"They have a lot of old buildings that weren't constructed at a time with modern seismic codes," he said. Given the size, depth and location of the quakes, the USGS estimates that about 24 million people likely felt at least weak shaking. This original quake was about 20 kilometers (12 miles) northwest of the original shock, which puts it on the northern edge of the aftershock sequence and two months is normal for aftershocks, Earle said.
“The earthquake today has further disrupted the tectonic plates, and in the coming hours we may see aftershocks of today’s earthquake on top of those from August 24,” Salvatore Mazza, the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology told RAI News24. It is likely that more quakes are coming.