Monday, April 6, 2009

Italy Earthquake: Centuries-old buildings Collapse, People Trapped

ROME (Reuters) - The death toll in the earthquake that hit central Italy Monday has risen to 50, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said.

That would make this the most deadly earthquake to strike the country since 1980, when a quake of magnitude 6.5 killed about 2,735 people in the south of the country.

The earthquake center was in L'Aquila, and struck a huge swathe of central Italy as residents slept on Monday morning. Houses, churches and other buildings collapsed making the people fear more people may be trapped.

The dead were mainly in L'Aquila, a 13th century mountain city about 100 km (60 miles) east of Rome that has a population of 68,000, and surrounding villages.

The Civil Protection Department said the quake most likely killed "tens of people." Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi canceled a trip to Moscow and said he had declared a national emergency, which would free up funds for aid and rebuilding.

"I woke up hearing what sounded like a bomb," said Angela Palumbo, 87, as she walked on a street of L'Aquila.

"We managed to escape with things falling all around us. Everything was shaking, furniture falling. I don't remember ever seeing anything like this in my life," she said.

Rubble was strewn throughout the city and nearby towns, blocking roads and hampering rescue teams and residents who tried to lift debris with their bare hands in a search for survivors from the quake, which had a magnitude of at least 5.8.

"Thousands of people (could be left) homeless and thousands of buildings collapsed or damaged," said Agostino Miozzo, an official at the Civil Protection Department.

A resident in l'Aquila standing by an apartment block that had been reduced to the height of an adult said: "This building was four floors high." Some cars were buried by the rubble.

In another section of the city, residents tried to hush the wailing of grief to try to pinpoint the sound of a crying baby.

It was the worst earthquake in terms of deaths to hit Italy since 2002, when 30 children were killed in a school collapse in the south.

But officials said the death toll from this earthquake could be worse because more buildings were damaged over a wider area.


Four children were reported killed in one building in l'Aquila, two people were dead in one outlying village and five in another. A number of people were reported to have been injured and still trapped under rubble, officials said.

There were numerous reports of some the area's centuries-old Romanesque and Renaissance churches collapsing.

Part of a university residence and a hotel collapsed in l'Aquila but it was not clear if anyone was inside. The quake brought down the bell tower of a church in the city center.

Some bridges and highways in the mountainous area were closed as a precaution.

The quake struck shortly after 3.30 a.m. (8:30 p.m. EDT) and was centered in the mountainous Abruzzo region east of Rome south of Umbria.

People in many parts of central Italy felt the quake and some ran out into the streets. Residents of Rome, which is rarely hit by seismic activity, were woken by the quake. Furniture rattled, lights swayed and car alarms went off.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake's epicenter was believed to be about 60 miles from Rome and that its depth was 6.2 miles.

The agency initially put the scale of the quake at 6.7 but later lowered it to 6.3. Italian officials put the magnitude at about 5.8.

The quake was the latest and strongest in a series to hit the l'Aquila area on Sunday and Monday. Earthquakes can be particularly dangerous in parts of Italy because so many buildings are centuries-old.

Following is a list of major earthquakes in Italy over the past century:

Sept 8, 1905 - Some 5,000 people are killed when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake tore through the Calabria region, obliterating 25 villages.

Dec 28, 1908 - Over 82,000 people are killed in a 7.2 magnitude earthquake which reduced Messina, Sicily's second town, to rubble. A tidal wave followed causing more devastation.

Jan 13, 1915 - Some 32,600 are killed when an earthquake measuring 7.0 struck Avezzano in central Italy.

July 27, 1930 - A quake measuring 6.5 strikes the region of Irpinia in southern Italy, killing around 1,400 people.

May 6, 1976 - An earthquake measuring 6.5 rocks Friuli in Italy's northeast corner, killing 976 people and leaving 70,000 others homeless.

November 23, 1980 - Some 2,735 people are killed and more than 7,500 injured in an earthquake measuring 6.5. The epicenter was at Eboli but damage was reported over a huge area toward Naples.

December 13, 1990 - Earthquake centered in the sea off Sicily kills 13 people and injures 200.

September 26, 1997 - Two earthquakes measuring 6.4 kill 11 people and cause serious damage to the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, ruining priceless Mediaeval frescoes. A further quake measuring 5.1 hits Umbria days later causing damage.

July 17, 2001 - Earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale shakes the northern Italian region of Alto Adige, killing one woman.

September 6, 2002 - An earthquake measuring 6.0 strikes Sicily. Two people died from heart attacks triggered by the earthquake which also damaged artistic treasures.

October 31, 2002 - A violent earthquake measuring 5.9 hits Campobasso, south-central Italy, killing 30 people, most of them children, in San Giuliano di Puglia.

April 11, 2003 - An earthquake measuring 4.6 rocks northern Italy, rattling buildings from Milan to Turin and prompting officials to evacuate some schools.

April 6, 2009 - A powerful earthquake strikes a huge swath of central Italy, killing at least 27 people as houses, churches and other buildings collapse. The quake was centered in the mountainous Abruzzo region east of Rome. The dead were mainly in L'Aquila, a 13th century city about 100 km (60 miles) east of Rome with a population of 68,000.

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