A strong, shallow earthquake hit central Italy early Wednesday, killing at least 73 people and leaving rescuers desperately digging through the rubble to free survivors as more than 1,000 have been displaced.
Many of the dead from the 6.2-magnitude earthquake were from three badly-affected villages in a mountainous area, according to CNN affiliate Rai.
The rural area is a popular vacation spot, and is especially bustling with people during the summer break.
The deaths included 10 people in the village of Pescara del Tronto, six in Accumoli and five in Amatrice, Rai reported, adding that children were among the victims.
The earthquake hit 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) southeast of Norcia at 3:36 a.m., and was about 10 kilometers deep, the United States Geological Survey said. Its tremors rattled Rome — about 100 miles away.
Authorities say they cannot put a figure on the number trapped under the rubble, but the death toll is expected to rise.
Amatrice, a town of about 2,000 people north of Italy’s Lazio region, is in ruins.
“The town is no more,” Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told the affiliate, appealing to rescuers: “Help us.”
Rescue workers called Amatrice residents’ cellphones, and tried to get to those who answered, the affiliate reported. If there was no answer, rescuers moved on to the next person.
The mayor of nearby Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, described desperate scenes rescuers raced against time to try to save those beneath the rubble.
“We’re digging, digging… hoping to find someone alive,” he told the affiliate.
Tommaso della Longa, a spokesman for the Red Cross, said Amatrice had been “almost completely destroyed.” “The situation is difficult at the moment.”
The priority is to find survivors in the remote, mountainous terrain, he said.
“The biggest problem at the moment (is) logistic problems because it’s in central Italy, with really small villages. Now the biggest challenge is to reach all of them,” he said.
“During the holidays there are a lot of people there. So we don’t have a precise number (of how many are affected). We can talk about ten of thousands, but we don’t know the exact number.”
Amatrice, known for its traditional all’amatriciana pasta sauce, had been gearing up to hold a festival celebrating the recipe this weekend.