A powerful earthquake struck Italy on Sunday in the same central regions that have been rocked by repeated tremors over the past two months, with more buildings brought down but no deaths immediately reported.
The quake, which measured 6.6 according to the U.S. Geological Survey, was bigger than one on Aug. 24 that killed almost 300 people. Many people have fled the region since then, helping to avoid a new devastating death toll.
Its epicentre close to the historic Umbrian walled town of Norcia, some 100 km (60 miles) from the university city of Perugia.
Panicked Norcia residents rushed into the streets and the town’s ancient Basilica of St. Benedict collapsed, leaving just the facade standing. Nuns, monks and locals sank to their knees in the main square in silent prayer before the shattered church.
“This is a tragedy. It is a coup de grace. The basilica is devastated,” Bishop Renato Boccardo of Norcia told Reuters.
“Everyone has been suspended in a never-ending state of fear and stress. They are at their wits end,” said Boccardo, referring to the thousands of tremors that have rattled the area since August, including two serious quakes on Wednesday.
Italy’s Civil Protection unit, which coordinates disaster relief, said numerous houses were destroyed on Sunday in the regions of Umbria and Marche, but either they were deserted at the time or most of the residents managed to escape beforehand.
“No deaths have been reported, but there are a number of people injured,” said Civil Protection chief Fabrizio Curcio, adding that just one person was in a serious condition.
Local authorities said towns and villages already battered by August’s 6.2 quake had suffered further significant damage.
“This morning’s quake has hit the few things that were left standing. We will have to start from scratch,” Michele Franchi, the deputy mayor of Arquata del Tronto, told Rai television.