Earthquake rocks Italy, destroys ancient buildings

A powerful 6.6-magnitude earthquake rocked central Italy on Sunday morning, injuring at least 20 people, and destroyed ancient buildings in the strongest tremor to hit the country in more than three decades.

The earthquake follows tremors last week and comes on off the heels of a devastating quake in August, which killed nearly 300 people and flattened entire villages, CNN reports.

Residents ran onto the streets in a panic as the quake struck at 7:40 a.m. local time  Sunday, and rescuers were seen soon after, helping evacuate a group of nuns from a church. They worked through aftershocks that hit every 20 minutes or so.

Authorities are hopeful there may be no deaths since many residents in the region had already been evacuated to emergency camps and hotel rooms paid for by the government after the August quake and last week’s temblors, and schools had shut down in anticipation of powerful aftershocks.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Rome thanked rescuers and vowed to rebuild damaged villages.

“Italy has many faults, but these situations bring out the best of us,” he said, adding the country would rebuild houses, churches and shops.

“We will rebuild everything. We have the resources to do it.”

The main road into the worst-affected area has been blocked at various points, said Curcio, the civil protection chief, and helicopters were airlifting the injured to the hospital in Foligno, around 30 kilometres to the northwest. Six aircraft were monitoring the affected regions, he added.

Initial images from Sunday’s quake show devastation to some historical buildings. Many of these buildings had not been reinforced since two powerful quakes struck Wednesday.

The town center of Amatrice took another battering Sunday after most of its buildings were seriously damaged in the August quake — a lone bell tower was seen poking up among the rubble.

The much-visited Basilica of San Benedetto in Norcia was leveled at its core, only its facade still somewhat intact. Central Italy is a deeply Catholic region.