A strong earthquake in central Italy reduced three towns to rubble as people slept early Wednesday, with reports that as many as 50 people were killed and hundreds injured as rescue crews raced to dig out survivors.
The toll was likely to rise as crews reached homes in more remote hamlets where the scenes were apocalyptic “like Dante’s Inferno,” according to one witness.
“The town isn’t here anymore,” said Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice. “I believe the toll will rise.”
The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome, where residents felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. The temblor shook the Lazio region and Umbria and Le Marche on the Adriatic coast.
Premier Matteo Renzi planned to head to the zone later Wednesday and promised: “No family, no city, no hamlet will be left behind.”
CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports the winding rural roads were making it difficult for rescuers and heavy equipment to reach the remote mountain communities.
The hardest-hit towns were Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, some 100 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto some 25 kilometers further east. Italy’s civil protection agency said the preliminary toll was 38 dead, several hundred injured and thousands in need of temporary housing, though it stressed the numbers were fluid.
The ANSA news agency said 35 of the dead were in Amatrice alone, with another 17 dead in the province of Ascoli Piceno, which includes Pescara del Tronto, for a reported total topping 50.
The center of Amatrice was devastated, with entire buildings razed and the air thick with dust and smelling strongly of gas. Amatrice, birthplace of the famed spaghetti all’amatriciana bacon-tomato pasta sauce, is made up of 69 hamlets that rescue teams were working to reach.
Rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets of the city center and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as more than 40 aftershocks jolted the region into the early morning hours, some as strong as 5.1.