Italy quake death toll nears 250 as rescuers search demolished towns

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...

Italy quake death toll nears 250, rescue work intensifies

AMATRICE, Italy (Reuters) - The death toll from a devastating earthquake in central Italy reached at least 241 people on Thursday and could rise further after rescue teams worked through the night to try to find survivors under the rubble of flattened towns.

The 6.2 magnitude quake struck a cluster of mountain communities 140 km (85 miles) east of Rome early on Wednesday as people slept, destroying hundreds of homes.

The Civil Protection department officially revised the death toll down to 241 from a previous 247 given earlier on Thursday morning.

RELATED: Fatalities from earthquakes in Italy

Officials said they expected to confirm more deaths as the search operation continued. Trucks full of rubble left the area every few minutes, including one in which a dusty doll could be seen lying on top of tonnes of debris.

On Thursday, the sun rose on frightened people who had slept in cars or tents, the earth continuing to tremble under their feet from aftershocks, hundreds of which have struck since the quake. Two registered 5.1 and 5.4, just before dawn.

Photos of the Italy earthquake aftermath:

31 PHOTOS
Earthquake devastates mountain towns in central Italy
See Gallery
Earthquake devastates mountain towns in central Italy
PERUGIA, ITALY - AUGUST 24: Rubble surrounds damaged buildings after a strong earthquake hit San Pellegrino near Norcia on August 24, 201 in Perugia, Italy. Central Italy was struck by a powerful, 6.2-magnitude earthquake in the early hours, which has killed at least three people and devastated dozens of mountain villages. Numerous buildings had collapsed in communities close to the epicenter of the quake near the town of Norcia in the region of Umbria, witnesses told Italian media, with an increase in the death toll highly likely (Photo by Awakening/Getty Images)
PERUGIA, ITALY - AUGUST 24: Rubble surrounds damaged buildings after a strong earthquake hit San Pellegrino near Norcia on August 24, 201 in Perugia, Italy. Central Italy was struck by a powerful, 6.2-magnitude earthquake in the early hours, which has killed at least three people and devastated dozens of mountain villages. Numerous buildings had collapsed in communities close to the epicenter of the quake near the town of Norcia in the region of Umbria, witnesses told Italian media, with an increase in the death toll highly likely (Photo by Awakening/Getty Images)
Rescuers search amid rubble following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
A firefighter searches through debris of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. A strong earthquake in central Italy reduced three towns to rubble as people slept early Wednesday, with reports that as many as 50 people were killed and hundreds injured as rescue crews raced to dig out survivors. (Italian Firefighters via AP)
A man walks amid rubbles after an earthquake struck in Amatrice Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks.(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
PERUGIA, ITALY - AUGUST 24: People view a damaged building after a strong earthquake hit San Pellegrino near Norcia on August 24, 201 in Perugia, Italy. Central Italy was struck by a powerful, 6.2-magnitude earthquake in the early hours, which has killed at least three people and devastated dozens of mountain villages. Numerous buildings had collapsed in communities close to the epicenter of the quake near the town of Norcia in the region of Umbria, witnesses told Italian media, with an increase in the death toll highly likely (Photo by Awakening/Getty Images)
A man is rescued alive from the ruins following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rescuers work following an earthquake in Accumoli di Rieti, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Scherer
A man is carried away after been rescued alive from the ruins following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
A man is carried away after having been rescued alive from the ruins following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
A man is rescued alive from the ruins following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
A man is carried away after having been rescued alive from the ruins following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Rescuers and people walk along a road following an earthquake in Accumoli di Rieti, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Scherer
A damaged house is seen following an earthquake in Accumoli di Rieti, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Scherer
A bust is seen on the ground following an earthquake in Accumoli di Rieti, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Scherer
Rescuers work on a collapsed building following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH A body is carried away by rescuers following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca
A rescuer stands in front of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A partially collapsed church is seen following an earthquake in Accumoli di Rieti, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Scherer
A collapsed house is seen following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
Rescuers work in Amatrice, central Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, where a magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. Turistic sign at right reads in Italian : "Amatrice, one of the most beautiful hamlets in Italy" . (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Rescuers search amid rubble following an earthquake in Amatrice Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Rescuers search amid rubble of collapsed houses following an earthquake in Pescara Del Tronto, Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
An injured man is rescued from a collapsed building following an earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
PERUGIA, ITALY - AUGUST 24: A damaged building is seen after a strong earthquake hit Amatrice on August 24, 201 in Perugia, Italy. Central Italy was struck by a powerful, 6.2-magnitude earthquake in the early hours, which has killed at least three people and devastated dozens of mountain villages. Numerous buildings had collapsed in communities close to the epicenter of the quake near the town of Norcia in the region of Umbria, witnesses told Italian media, with an increase in the death toll highly likely (Photo by Awakening/Getty Images)
AMATRICE, Aug. 24, 2016-- Photo taken on Aug. 24, 2016 shows damaged houses after the earthquake in Amatrice, central Italy. The death toll in a strong earthquake in central Italy has risen to 38, authorities said Wednesday. The 6.0 magnitude earthquake hit the city of Rieti at 3:32 a.m. Wednesday, with a shallow depth of 4.2 km, according to the National Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. (Xinhua/Jin Yu via Getty Images)
Rescue and emergency services personnel searches for victims with a dog in the central Italian village of Amatrice, on August 24, 2016 after a powerful earthquake rocked central Italy. A powerful earthquake rattled a remote area of central Italy on August 24, 2016, leaving at least 120 people dead and scenes of carnage in mountain villages. With 368 people injured and an unknown number trapped under rubble, the figure of dead and wounded was expected to rise in the wake of the pre-dawn quake, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warned. / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
Volunteers join rescue and emergency services personnel searching for victims in the central Italian village of Amatrice, on August 24, 2016 after a powerful earthquake rocked central Italy. A powerful earthquake rattled a remote area of central Italy on August 24, 2016, leaving at least 120 people dead and scenes of carnage in mountain villages. With 368 people injured and an unknown number trapped under rubble, the figure of dead and wounded was expected to rise in the wake of the pre-dawn quake, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warned. / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
PERUGIA, ITALY - AUGUST 24: A damaged building is seen after a strong earthquake hit Amatrice on August 24, 201 in Perugia, Italy. Central Italy was struck by a powerful, 6.2-magnitude earthquake in the early hours, which has killed at least three people and devastated dozens of mountain villages. Numerous buildings had collapsed in communities close to the epicenter of the quake near the town of Norcia in the region of Umbria, witnesses told Italian media, with an increase in the death toll highly likely (Photo by Awakening/Getty Images)
Two people hug each other next to the remains of a collapsed house following an earthquake in Pescara Del Tronto, Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome where residents of the capital felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

"I haven't slept much because I was really afraid," said 70-year-old Arturo Onesi from the town of Arquata del Tronto, who spent the night in a tent camp for survivors and rescue workers.

On Thursday afternoon a violent aftershock measuring magnitude 4.3 sent rescuers fleeing from debris and stones that fell from the severely damaged bell tower of the 15th century church of St. Augustine in Amatrice.

The aftershock, which struck fear and panic in survivors, detached the church's facade, leaving it dangerously unstable over the main street where rescuers work.

The original earthquake was powerful enough to be felt in Bologna to the north and Naples to the south, both more than 220 km (135 miles) from the epicenter.

Many of those killed or injured were holidaymakers in the four worst-hit towns - Amatrice, Pescara del Tronto, Arquata del Tronto and Accumoli - where seasonal visitors swell populations by up to tenfold the summer. That makes it harder to track the deaths.

One Spaniard, five Romanians, and a number of other foreigners, some of them care-givers for the elderly, were believed to be among the dead, officials said.

Aerial video taken by drones showed swathes of Amatrice, last year voted one of Italy's most beautiful historic towns, completely flattened. The town, known across Italy and beyond for a local pasta dish, had been filling up for the 50th edition of a popular food festival this weekend.

The mayor said the bodies of 15-20 tourists were believed to be under the rubble of the town's Hotel Roma, which he said had about 32 guests when it collapsed on Wednesday morning.

RELATED: Recent large earthquakes in Italy

GIRL FOUND ALIVE

About 270 people injured in Wednesday's quake were hospitalized, the Civil Protection department said, adding that about 5,000 people, including police, firefighters, army troops and volunteers, were involved in post-quake operations.

Rescuers working with emergency lighting in the darkness saved a 10-year-old girl, pulling her alive from the rubble where she had lain for about 15 hours.

Many other children were not so lucky. A family of four, including two boys aged 8 months and 9 years, were buried when a church bell tower toppled into their house in nearby Accumoli.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's cabinet was meeting on Thursday to decide emergency measures to help the affected communities.

"Today is a day for tears, tomorrow we can talk of reconstruction," he told reporters late on Wednesday.

The death toll appeared likely to rival or surpass that from the last major earthquake to strike Italy, which killed more than 300 people in the central city of L'Aquila in 2009.

While hopes of finding more people alive diminished by the hour, firefighters' spokesman Luca Cari recalled that survivors were found in L'Aquila up to 72 hours after that quake.

Most of the damage was in the Lazio and Marche regions, with Lazio bearing the brunt of the devastation and the biggest toll. Neighboring Umbria was also affected. All three regions are dotted with centuries-old buildings susceptible to earthquakes.

Italy sits on two fault lines, making it one of the most seismically active countries in Europe.

The country's most deadly earthquake since the start of the 20th century came in 1908, when anearthquake followed by a tsunami killed an estimated 80,000 people in the southern regions of Reggio Calabria and Sicily.

Donate to Italian earthquake relief funds by visiting here.

Read Full Story

People are Reading