At least 21 people were killed and dozens more were missing or feared dead Wednesday after a magnitude 6.2 earthquake and a series of aftershocks struck several towns in central Italy, according to local news reports.
The death toll climbed in the morning as rescuers searched for people trapped in the rubble. The hardest-hit towns were Amatrice and Accumoli nearRieti, about 80 miles northeast of Rome.
Police near the town of Ascoli said they could hear cries for help from under the rubble but lack the heavy equipment to move the rocks, according the RAI radio.
“Half of the town doesn’t exist anymore,” Sergio Perozzi, mayor of Amatrice, told RAI-TV. “People are stuck underneath the rubble. Houses are no longer there.”
Several buildings collapsed and lights went out after the earthquake, Perozzi said. He said he had trouble communicating with emergency responders and couldn’t reach the hospital. The center of Amatrcie was devastated and homes collapsed on residents as they slept.
“The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me,” resident Maria Gianni told the Associated Press. “I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn’t hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg.”