ROME — A strong earthquake struck central Italy early Wednesday, leaving several people dead and terrified residents standing outside at night, surrounded by collapsed buildings.
At least six people died following the 6.2-magnitude earthquake, according to CNN affiliate RAI.
State-run RAI radio said people ran into the streets in central Umbria and Le Marche regions shortly after the quake struck about 6 miles southeast of Norcia, Italy, just after 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The mayor of Amatrice, hit hard by the quake, says residents are buried under the debris of collapsed buildings and that “the town isn’t here anymore.”
Sergio Pirozzi told state-run RAI radio and Sky TG24 that he needs heavy equipment to clear rubble-clogged streets to get to the injured.
Asked if there were any dead he said: “Look, there are houses that aren’t here anymore. I hope we get some help.”
“The roads in and out of town are cut off,” Pirozzi told RAI.
Charlotte Smith, coach of Elon University women’s basketball team in North Carolina, was in Rome with her players when the quake hit.
“It lasted for at least 30 seconds. The entire hotel was shaking,” she said. “I went down to the lobby and there were a lot of people waiting there. … Then an earthquake happened 30 minutes later.”
Tremors rattled Rome about 100 miles away.
Michael Gilroy, who was on the second story of a three-floor building in the city of Montepulciano, said the earthquake sent people rushing out into the night
“It felt like the bed was on rollers,” he said.
“It was initially very confusing. I’m from California and had a sense of what it may be. And we ran out to the main area and the chandelier was swaying back and forth. At that point, we knew we had to get out of the building as fast as we can.”
Gilroy, his girlfriend and other hotel guests waited outside in a clear area.
“We’re going to wait for daylight and see what happens from there,” he said.
About an hour after the first earthquake, a 5.5-magnitude aftershock hit near Norcia, Italy.
Several buildings collapsed in Amatrice, according to the affiliate. .
“This was an earthquake … that is considered a very shallow earthquake,” said Jessica Turner of the USGS.
“At that shallowness and magnitude of 6.2, we’re going to expect lots of aftershocks for next several hours and maybe the next several days.”
Landslides are likely, because the earthquake struck in a mountainous area, she said.
Significant casualties are likely and economic loss could be extensive, the USGS said.
“Overall, the population in this region resides in structures that are a mix of vulnerable and earthquake resistant construction,” it said.
It described the buildings as un-reinforced brick with mud and concrete frame with infill construction.
“Based on the estimate we have, we could be looking at very significant losses,” Rafael Abreu, a USGS geophysicist, told CNN. “We can see several casualties related to this event.”
The quake damaged buildings in Ascoli Piceno, a town east of Norcia, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
Deadly earthquakes have struck Italy in recent years.
In May 2012, a pair of earthquakes killed dozens of people in northern Italy.
In April 2009, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Italy, killing 295. The earthquake Wednesday struck an area close to the 2009 earthquake.
The European Mediterranean Seismological Center put the magnitude at 6.1 and said the epicenter was northeast of Rome, near Rieti. The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.2. It was felt in central Rome, as people in homes in the city’s historic center felt a long swaying.
About an hour after the earthquake, a 5.5-magnitude aftershock hit just 4 kilometers northeast of Norcia.
Italian news agency ANSA reported that there were damages to buildings in Ascoli Piceno, a town east of Norcia. Many calls to firefighters have been made following the earthquake in the Umbria region, according to ANSA.