AS IT HAPPENED: Central Italy reels from four strong earthquakes

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
AS IT HAPPENED: Central Italy reels from four strong earthquakes
The quake hit areas already devastated by last year's tremblors. Photo: Vigili del Fuoco

Four earthquakes measuring above 5 on the Richter scale hit the central Italian region on Wednesday morning, an area which was devastated by a series of quakes last year and is currently suffering from heavy snow.


What we know so far

- The first three quakes came within one hour, at 10:25, 11:14 and 11:25 on Wednesday morning, each with a magnitude of above 5. A fourth major tremor was reported at around 14:33, with a magnitude estimated at 5.3.

- The quakes were felt in Rome along with other areas of Lazio, Abruzzo and the Marche, and as far away Umbria, Naples and Florence.

- No casualties or major damage has yet been reported, but there has been minor damage in Amatrice, the town at the epicentre of last August's quake.

- Rome's Metro service and the road connecting Rome and L'Aquila have been suspended

We are now closing this live blog for today and will bring you the latest updates tomorrow morning.

Mother and child pulled from rubble, 17:47: Firefighters said they had rescued a mother and her son from rubble in Castiglione. Both are alive, and have been transported by helicopter to hospital to be treated for hypothermia.

The pair had been at an agritourism site in the Teramo province, where there have been several reports of families isolated due to the snow.

A separate rescue operation, to reach a boy who is trapped in his house alone, is shown in the video below.

Ambulances blocked from Amatrice, 16:26: As shown in the video from La Repubblica below, ambulances are unable to enter the town of Amatrice due to the heavy snow. The ambulances are reportedly not responding to a particular crisis but are arriving as a precautionary measure, to be ready in case of emergency.

Wednesday's earthquakes 'a new phenomenon': INGV, 16:15: INGV seismologist Alessandro Amato said that the series of four earthquakes above magnitude 5 within such a short space of time was "a new phenomenon in recent history".

The quakes recorded today had a depth of around 9-10km and were in the Apennine mountains, directly above a very complex system of fault lines.

All missing farmers accounted for, 15:59: Italy's Civil Protection Agency has confirmed that all 15 of the farmers reported missing this morning, after entering the dangerous 'red zone' of Arquata del Tronto to feed their animals, have been located.

Shelters are being prepared, 15:27: Although there are still no news of any casualties or serious damage, many people in the affected area will not be able to sleep in their own beds tonight.

Here's one of the emergency shelters being set up in Montereale.

Animals buried in the quakes, 15:13: Some sad news from animal rights' organization Enpa, which reports that up to 90 animals have been injured and killed after two stables collapsed in the quake.

The collapse of the bell tower which we reported earlier also destroyed another important building - the one housing Enpa and their emergency vets.

Enpa's staff and volunteers worked hard in central Italy following the disaster, rescuing plenty of pets, providing medical assistance, and reuniting them with their owners. On Wednesday they were once again providing assistance to animal-owners, and urging mayors to allow pets to be brought into the emergency shelters.

According to Enpa, the 15 farmers who were reported missing after entering the dangerous 'red zone' of Arquata del Tronto earlier today to feed their animals (12 have since been located), had been asking authorities to provide safe shelter for their animals for several days.

The organization reported that in addition to assisting isolated people and working on the roads, the Italian army was going to help secure stables and animal shelters. In a statement, they said that "hundreds and hundreds of animals have died of cold" due to "bureaucratic problems" in the wake of the earthquakes.

How to help quake-damaged schools, 15:05: The Civil Protection Agency has announced a number which you can text (in Italy) in order to donate money to the rebuilding of schools in central Italy. By texting 45500 before January 29th, you can donate €2 to the rebuild effort. 

The problem of damage to schools was first raised after the August 24th quake last year, which left almost a third of the schools in the affected area (28 percent) unfit for use.

Amatrice's damaged school. Photo: AFP

The quality of the buildings was a subject of controversy in the weeks following the quake, as it emerged that recently restored buildings, including Amatrice's school, had not been able to withstand the quake.

Many still isolated, 14:58: The quakes struck in mountainous regions where residents of several hamlets have been isolated for days due to heavy snow. According to Ansa, several isolated hamlets in Teramo - nestled among the highest peaks of the Apennine mountains - have lacked electrical power for over 48 hours. The prison in nearby Castrogno is also suffering from lack of power, and staff have reportedly expressed fears that this could lead to unrest.

Families have also been blocked in by snow in some areas of Amaatrice, and in Arquata del Tronto, 12 of 15 farmers reported missing this morning have now been located, but search efforts continue for the remaining three.

Yet another major quake, 14:38: After a calmer few hours, a fourth quake of a magnitude above 5.0 has been reported in the central Italian region. According to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC), it had a magnitude of 5.3, and its epicentre was again in Montereale in the l'Aquila province.

Other towns 10km or closer to the epicentre were Capitignano, Campotosto, Amatrice and Cagnano Amiterno, but the tremors were also felt strongly in Rome.

Recovery efforts in the snow, 14:01: Emergency services have still not been able to reach some isolated hamlets in order to carry out checks and help the people living there, due to snow which is in some places almost two metres deep.

Footage on Rai television shows people using shovels to move the snow themselves, while it continues to fall around them.

Here's what the snow looks like in Montereale, the town closest to the epicentre of the quakes.

12 of the 15 missing farmers located, 13:56: Italy's Civil Protection Agency has said that 12 of the three farmers earlier reported missing have been found. The remaining three are still not contactable, however this could be due to problems with phone networks in the earthquake-hit areas.

Update from fire service, 13:38: Italy's fire service has shared another update on its work in the earthquake-hit region. It confirmed that there were still no reports of casualties or injuries caused by the quake.

"The problem remains the difficulty of using the roads, due to the snow," it added.

Italy PM speaks from Germany, 13:29: The Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni is now giving a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. The main theme of the conference is how Italy and Germany see the future of Europe, but Gentiloni began by speaking about the earthquake this morning, which he said he was monitoring "minute by minute".

"Fortunately there are no reports of casualties, however it is a situation which causes alarm for the population, which was already severely affected by the earthquakes last year," said Gentiloni.

He said that he had spoken with defence minister Roberta Pinotto earlier in the morning and that they had agreed to reinforce military presence in the area in order to assist those who might be isolated in the mountain towns.

On Tuesday evening, soldiers had been sent to areas of Abruzzo and the Marche to help people affected by heavy snowfall in the region - a factor which has made earthquake recovery efforts more difficult.

Rome's Metro line A reopens, 13:18: After being closed for seismic checks, Rome's Metro line A is now back in service, transport authorities have said. 

The B line remains closed, with replacement buses running instead.

Civil Protection head: Many areas have not yet been reached, 13:15: The head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, Fabrizio Curcio, has said that while there are still no known casualties, many areas have not yet been reached by rescue services due to the heavy snow.

Map shows major quakes since 2009: This map from the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) shows the major earthquakes in central Italy since the 2009 disaster which devastated L'Aquila. Italy is one of the world's most seismically active countries, with a fault line running down the centre.

Avalanche fears in the Marche, 13:00: In the mountainous Marche region, the Civil Protection Agency has issued an avalanche warning due to the combination of heavy snow and ongoing tremors. 

Rome opens historic centre to traffic, 12:49: To help ease strain on the roads after the closure of Metro lines earlier today, the capital has announced that the Limited Traffic Zone in the city's centre will be open to vehicles.

Metro routes have been replaced by bus services while checks are carried out on the tracks.

More collapses reported, 12:38: Parts of buildings in Campotosto and Poggia Cancelli have collapsed, along with farm buildings in Grisciano, Accumoli, Rai News reports.

There have been no reports of casualties in Wednesday's quakes, but 15 farmers are still missing. A total of 850 firefighters are carrying out checks and recovery efforts, but Italy's fire service said it had not been informed of anyone trapped by the earthquake.

Quake magnitudes revised, 12:32: The Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (Ingv) has revised its estimates of the morning's earthquakes.

According to the new figures, the first quake was measured at 5.1, the second 5.4 and the third at 5.3. Earlier estimates had put the magnitude of the first two quakes at 5.4 and 5.7.

Local mayors speak to media, 12:28: Mayors from some of the towns affected by the earthquakes have been speaking to Italian press.

The mayor of Montereale, Massimiliano Giorgi, said on RaiNews24 that for the moment, "there has been some damage, but no major collapses and there are no victims".

Sergio Pirozzi, mayor of Amatrice, said his town was experiencing the worst snow in more than 50 years. "People can't get out because there is up to two metres of snow," he told Rai reporters. "We have been awake all night trying to resolve the problem."

Both mayors have called for steam turbines to assist in recovery efforts in the snowy towns, while Giorgi said that he was waiting for army soldiers to arrive in the town.

On Tuesday evening, Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti announced that the army would be assisting people isolated by the heavy snowfall.

Amatrice’s bell tower has completely collapsed, 12:23: According to a report in local paper Rieti Life, the bell tower of Amatrice is completely destroyed after Wednesday’s tremors.

The 13th-century civic tower was damaged but left standing by the August quake, but was significantly damaged after later tremors in the region last October. Now, Rieti Life says the tower is destroyed “once and for all”.

Concern for missing farmers, 12:14: Concern has been raised over fifteen farmers in the villages of Spelonga and Colle di Arquata, Italian news site Adnkronos reports.

Family members have not been able to get in touch with the farmers since they left to feed cattle. “There are up to two metres of snow, the situation is dramatic,” the mayor of Arquata del Tronto, Aleandro Petrucci, told the paper.

Emergency services in difficulty, 11:58: Italy's fire service shared on Twitter that they are carrying out further checks following the latest, stronger tremor.

"Operational difficulties due to the snow-covered streets," they said.

READ ALSO: Italy sends in the army to help those trapped by snow

Evacuations in Rome, 11.52: Office workers have been evacuated in Rome, together with students at local schools and universities.

The region is currently affected by heavy snowfall and below-freezing temperatures, which has seen already fragile buildings put under extra stress and farmers raise fears for their animals living in stables and shelters which have not been rebuilt.

A third quake, 11:33: A third major earthquake has been reported. According to Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (Ingv), the latest tremor had a magnitude of 6.3, with the epicentre in the L'Aquila area once again. As with the earlier quakes, the movement was felt in Rome.

Red Cross gives advice, 11:25: Italy's Red Cross shared information about what to do in case of an earthquake, warning those who were inside buildings to find shelter under a table or similar and avoid using stairs or lifts, and those who were outside to stay far away from bodies of water, tall buildings and industrial plants.


People in the area were also asked to avoid using roads and telephones, in order to keep networks free for rescue workers and emergency services.

Second quake hits Italy, 11:20: Just under an hour after the first tremblor, a second quake of above 5.0 magnitude has been reported, this one stronger and longer than the first.

Ingv report that this quake's magnitude was 5.4, with the epicentre in L'Aquila.

Which areas are affected?

According to estimates from Italy's Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, the first quake had a magnitude of 5.3 and a depth of 10km, and the second measured 5.6 on the Richter Scale.

Firefighters have deployed helicopters to assess the scene, but said that there had been no requests for rescue. 

The epicentre of the quake is in Montereale, a town in the L'Aquila province just over 100km north-east of Rome. The capital suspended its Metro service on Wednesday morning and the motorway connecting Rome, L'Aquila and Teramo, the A24, has also been closed for checks.

The head of Italy's Civil Protection Department, Fabrizio Curcio, said he was waiting to hear from local mayors and firefighters in order to assess any damage from the latest tremor.

Montereale is located in a national park and is 36km from the province's capital, also called L'Aquila, a town which has still not been fully rebuilt following a devastating quake in 2009, the agency reported.

Amatrice, the town struck by a 6.0 magnitude earthquake which left 299 dead, was also close to the epicentre of this latest quake. 

According to news agency Ansa, the latest quake has caused some minor damage to Amatrice. Firefighters are carrying out checks on the town, though these are complicated by the poor weather conditions. 

Over the weekend, residents from nearby Accumoli had protested over a perceived lack of government will, with one protester telling The Local: "The rubble is still there; nothing has been moved, and then there's the aggravating factor of the snow and frost."

READ ALSO: Which areas in Italy have the highest earthquake risk?

The August 24th quake last year and two further major quakes in the region, the most powerful measuring 6.5 magnitude, were each followed by thousands of aftershocks, complicating reconstruction efforts in the damaged towns.

If you felt the earthquake, get in touch at [email protected]


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