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At least 38 dead as 6.2 magnitude quake shakes central Italy: authorities

At least 38 dead as 6.2 magnitude quake shakes central Italy: authorities

ROME: At least 38 people died in a powerful 6.2 magnitude earthquake that hit central Italy early on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the civil protection department said.

The quake struck towns and villages in the mountainous heart of the country, which was making the rescue operation more difficult, said spokeswoman Immacolata Postiglione. Italy's civil protection agency said the earthquake was "severe".

The United States Geological Survey said the 6.2 magnitude quake hit near the town of Norcia, in the region of Umbria, at 3.36am.

Speaking to journalists, Postiglione said 27 people had died between the towns of Accumoli and Amatrice, and a further 10 had died in the nearby Arquata area.

Later in her press conference she upped the death toll to 38, without giving further details.

The quake caused serious damage to a number of towns and villages but did not seem to have hit heavily populated areas. The tremors brought down buildings in mountainous central Italy trapping residents and sending others fleeing into the streets.

The worst hit towns were believed to be Accumoli, Amatrice, Posta and Arquata del Tronto, Fire Department spokesman Luca Cari told Reuters, adding that helicopters would be sent up at first light to assess the damage.

The mayor's of Accumoli and Amatrice reported extensive damage.

"Half the town is gone," Sergio Pirozzi told RAI. "There are people under the rubble... There's been a landslide and a bridge might collapse."

"It was so strong. It seemed the bed was walking across the room by itself with us on it," Lina Mercantini of Ceselli, Umbria, told Reuters.

Olga Urbani, in the nearby town of Scheggino, said: "Dear God it was awful. The walls creaked and all the books fell off the shelves."

Residents of Rome, some 170 km (105 miles) from the epicentre, were woken by the quake, which rattled furniture and swayed lights in most of central Italy.

A 5.5 magnitude aftershock hit the same region an hour after the initial quake.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's spokesman said on Twitter that the government was in touch with the civil protection agency and following the situation closely.

The last major earthquake to hit Italy struck the central city of L'Aquila in 2009, killing more than 300 people.

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