ACCUMOLI, Italy: A powerful earthquake rattled a remote area of central Italy yesterday, leaving at least 120 people dead and scenes of carnage in mountain villages. With 368 people injured and an unknown number trapped under rubble, the figure of dead and wounded was expected to rise in the wake of the pre-dawn quake, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warned. “This is not a final toll,” he said. Hundreds of people were to spend a chilly night in hastily-assembled tents with the risk of aftershocks making it far too risky for them to return home.
HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah yesterday sent a cable of condolences to President of Italy Sergio Mattarella. In the cable, the Amir expressed Kuwait’s solidarity with Italy over the quake which left a trail of death and destruction. HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables.
Scores of buildings were reduced to dusty piles of masonry in communities close to the epicenter of the quake, which had a magnitude of between 6.0 and 6.2. It hit a remote area straddling Umbria, Marche and Lazio at a time of year when second home owners and other visitors swell the numbers staying there. Many of the victims were from Rome. The devastated area is just north of L’Aquila, the city where some 300 people died in another quake in 2009.
More than half of the deaths occurred in and around the villages of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto. Guido Bordo, 69, lost his sister and her husband after they were trapped inside their holiday house in the hamlet of Illica, near Accumoli. “There’s no sound from them, we only heard their cats,” he told AFP before the deaths were confirmed. “I wasn’t here. As soon as the quake happened, I rushed here. They managed to pull my sister’s children out, they’re in hospital now,” he added, wringing his hands in anguish.
Sergio Camosi escaped in his underwear with his wife and daughter just before his house caved in. “We ran down the stairs but the door was blocked by stones so we had to climb out the window,” he said tearfully. Among the victims was a nine-month-old baby girl whose parents survived, an 18-month-old toddler and two other young children who died with their parents in Accumoli. Two boys aged four and seven were saved by their quick-thinking grandmother, who ushered them under a bed as soon as the shaking began, according to reports. She also survived but lost her husband. And there were sobs in Illica when two sisters were reunited with their poodle, Lello, pulled alive from their abandoned house.
It was Italy’s most powerful earthquake since the 2009 disaster in L’Aquila. “Half the village has disappeared,” said Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi, surveying a town centre that looked as if had been subjected to a bombing raid. Pope Francis interrupted his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square to express his shock. “To hear the mayor of Amatrice say his village no longer exists and knowing that there are children among the victims, is very upsetting for me,” he said.
Civil Protection chief Fabrizio Curcio classed the quake as “severe”. The shocks were strong enough to be felt 150 km away in Rome, where authorities ordered structural tests on the Colosseum. Some of the worst damage was suffered in Pescara del Tronto, a hamlet near Arquata in the Marche region where the bodies of the dead were laid out in a children’s play park. With residents advised not to go back into their homes, temporary campsites were being established in Amatrice and Accumoli as authorities looked to find emergency accommodation for more than 2,000 people.
Amatrice is a hilltop beauty spot famed as the home of amatriciana, one of Italy’s favorite pasta sauces, and is a popular destination for Romans seeking cool mountain air at the height of the summer. It was packed with visitors when the quake struck at 3:36am (0136 GMT). Three minutes later the clock on the village’s 13th-century tower stopped. The first quake measured 6.2, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which said it occurred at a shallow depth of 10 km. It measured 6.0 according to Italian monitors, who put the depth at only four km. A 5.4-magnitude aftershock followed an hour later.
Separately, a powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Myanmar yesterday, killing at least three people and damaging nearly 200 pagodas in the famous ancient capital of Bagan, officials said. The quake, which the US Geological Survey said hit at a depth of 84 km, was also felt across neighboring Thailand, India and Bangladesh, sending panicked residents rushing onto the streets. Two girls, aged 7 and 15, were killed in Magway region where the quake struck, according to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information. A collapsed building in a nearby town also killed a 22-year-old man and injured one woman, local police told AFP.
Heavy damage was also reported in Bagan – Myanmar’s most famous archaeological site and a major tourist destination 30 km north of the quake’s epicenter. Some 171 of the city’s more than 2,500 Buddhist monuments were damaged by the tremors, according to a statement posted by the Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs on Facebook. “Some were seriously damaged,” Aung Kyaw, the local director of Bagan’s culture department, told AFP.
Photos showed clouds of dust billowing around some of the site’s larger temples, with bricks crumbling down their tiered facades. A police officer from Bagan said a Spanish holidaymaker was slightly hurt when the quake knocked her from the temple where she was watching the sunset. Scaling Bagan’s ancient structures to watch the sun set over the vast plain of pagodas is a daily ritual among tourists and local pilgrims.
The temples, built between the 10th and 14th centuries, are revered in the Buddhist-majority country and a top draw for its growing tourism industry. Myanmar, which has opened its doors to a rising tide of visitors since emerging from junta rule in 2011, is eager to see the ancient capital designated a UNESCO world heritage site. Soe Win, a local politician from Chauk – the riverside town closest to the epicenter – said the tremors were the worst he had experienced in years. “More than eight pagodas in town collapsed,” the 50-year-old told AFP, referring to Chauk. “Two buildings collapsed as well, while some others were cracked. People in town are still scared.”
Damage was also reported in the capital Naypyidaw some 200 km away, with MP Thiri Yadanar posting photos on Facebook of cracked glass windows inside a parliament building. The earthquake caused high-rise buildings in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon to sway, as well as those in the Thai capital Bangkok and the Indian city of Kolkata. “Services of the underground railway have been suspended fearing aftershocks of the quake,” Kolkata Metro Railway spokesman Indrani Banerjee told AFP.
The quake was also felt throughout south and southwestern Bangladesh close to the border with Myanmar, with residents running outside. At least 20 people were injured as workers tried to flee a building in the Savar industrial district outside Dhaka, ATN Bangla television reported. “All of us ran to the streets leaving the houses and shops unsecured as the quake seemed very dangerous,” Nazmus Sakib, from the southern city of Chittagong near the Myanmar border, wrote on Facebook. – Agencies