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At least 16 dead, many injured in Italy quake

A powerful earthquake struck a huge swathe of central Italy as residents slept this morning, killing at least 16 people when houses, churches and other buildings collapsed, officials said.

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.

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 storeys high." Some cars were buried by the rubble.

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.

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 centuries-old churches having collapsed. The area has many Romanesque and Renaissance churches.

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 centre of the city and a church in a village.

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

The quake struck shortly after 3.30 am (0130 GMT) and was centred in the mountainous Abruzzo region east of Rome.

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 US Geological Survey said the quake's epicentre was believed to be about 60 miles (95 km) from Rome and that its depth was 6.2 miles (10 km).

The agency initially put the scale of the quake at 6.7 but later lowered it 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 yesterday and today.

Earthquakes can be particularly dangerous in parts of Italy because some buildings are centuries-old.


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