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Wednesday, August 24, 2016, 22:06

China ready to offer help to quake-hit Italy

By Agencies

China ready to offer help to quake-hit Italy
Rescuers search a crumbled building in Arcuata del Tronto, central Italy, where a strong earthquake struck just after 3:30 am local time , Aug 24, 2016. The quake was felt across a broad section of central Italy, including the capital Rome where people in homes in the historic center felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. (AP Photo/Sandro Perozzi)

AMATRICE — A devastating earthquake rocked central Italy early Wednesday, collapsing homes on top of residents as they slept.

Italy's civil protection agency said the death toll from the tremor has reached 73.

"The town isn't here anymore," said Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice.

China is ready to provide assistance to quake-hit areas in Italy, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said.

China expresses its sincere sympathy to the people affected by the disaster, spokesperson Lu Kang told a press conference.

The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 am (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome, where residents felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. The temblor was felt from the Lazio region into Umbria and Le Marche on the Adriatic coast.

The hardest-hit towns were Amatrice, Accumoli near Rieti, some 100 kilometers northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto further east.

Italy's civil protection agency said the preliminary toll was 37 dead, several hundred injured and thousands in need of temporary housing, though it stressed the numbers were fluid.

Rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as some 39 aftershocks jolted the region into the early morning hours, some as strong as 5.1.

China ready to offer help to quake-hit Italy
R esidents and rescuers help a man among the rubble after a strong earthquake hit Amatrice on August 24, 2016. (Photo/AFP)

"The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me," marveled resident Maria Gianni. "I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn't hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg."

As daylight dawned, residents, civil protection workers and even priests began digging out with shovels, bulldozers and their bare hands, trying to reach survivors. The devastation harked back to the 2009 quake that killed more than 300 people in and around L'Aquila, about 90 kilometers south of the latest quake. The town sent emergency teams Wednesday to help with the rescue.

Residents were digging their neighbors out by hand since emergency crews hadn't yet arrived in force.

The Italian geological service put the magnitude at 6.0; the US Geological Survey reported 6.2 with the epicenter at Norcia, about 170 kilometers northeast of Rome, and with a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers.

China ready to offer help to quake-hit Italy
Chart showing the epicenter of a 6.2-magnitude that struck Italy on Aug 24, 2016.

The mayor of Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, said six people had died there, including a family of four, and two others. He wept as he noted that the tiny hamlet of 700 swells to 2,000 in the summer months, and that he feared for the future of the town.

"I hope they don't forget us," he told Sky TG24.

In Amatrice, the Rev. Fabio Gammarota, priest of a nearby parish, said he had blessed seven bodies extracted so far. "One was a friend of mine," he said.

A 1997 quake killed a dozen people in the area and severely damaged one of the jewels of Umbria, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, filled with Giotto frescoes. The Franciscan friars who are the custodians of the basilica reported no immediate damage from Wednesday's temblor.

Pope Francis skipped his traditional catechism for his Wednesday general audience and instead invited pilgrims in St. Peter's Square to recite the rosary with him.

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