At least 38 killed in Italy earthquake

Rome: A devastating, 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit central Italy on Wednesday, leaving at least 38 persons dead, 150 missing and thousands homeless, as rescuers raced to dig survivors out of the rubble.

Many of the dead were in Pescara del Tronto, a popular holiday spot where up to ten people were missing. There were fears the number of casualties could rise in the village, which was levelled to the ground.

"The situation is terrible. It's a real disaster. The village has gone: almost all the houses have collapsed," said Aleandro Petrucci, Mayor of the nearby village of Arquata del Tronto.

At least 10 persons died in and around Arquata del Tronto where the main access road was damaged, complicating rescue operations. 

Nine were confirmed dead including a family of four and several more people were missing in Accumoli, close to the quake epicentre.

"The situation is dramatic. Few houses are still standing and we are surrounded by rubble," Accumoli's Mayor Stefano Petrucci told the local media.

Five persons were confirmed dead and a child to be missing in the nearby town of Amatrice, which was destroyed by the earthquake.

"Entire buildings have collapsed. Three-quarters of the town has been destroyed," Amatrice's Mayor Sergio Pirozzi.

"Only the bell tower is still standing," he added.

The quake hit the province of Rieti 100 km north-east of Rome at 3.36 a.m. (local time) and other smaller temblors may follow, experts warned.

"Unfortunately its' possible that there will be further earthquakes, hopefully of small magnitude," said Paolo Messina, director of the Italian National Research Council's Institute of Environmental Geology and Geoengineering.

"Given this situation, the only thing people can do is to follow the instructions of the civil protection agencies and local mayors."

Although it struck at a shallow depth of 10 km, the quake's intensity was compared to the Aquila earthquake in Italy's central Abruzzo region in April 2009 in which 309 persons died.

Wednesday's earthquake jolted a broad swathe of central Italy covering Lazio, Umbria and the eastern coastal Marche regions as well as in the northern city of Bologna and Naples in the south. 

Residents in the capital city Rome felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks and some buildings in the capital shook for 20 seconds. 

Italy's Civil Protection agency described the earthquake as "severe". IANS