MONTEREALE, Italy: Italy was hit by four earthquakes in four hours Wednesday, killing one and bringing terror to snowbound mountain areas still recovering from last year’s series of deadly tremors.
The quakes, all measuring more than five magnitude, struck close to Amatrice, the mountain town devastated by an August earthquake that left nearly 300 people dead.
The body of one victim was found under the debris of a building in the town of Castel Castagna, in the province of Teramo, local authorities said in a statement.
And as night fell and temperatures plummeted, fears mounted for isolated residents of remote hamlets cut off by heavy snowfall.
More than 130,000 homes were without electricity. A mother and child dragged from the ruins of a collapsed country cottage near Teramo in the Abruzzo region were both found to be suffering from hypothermia.
Wednesday’s first shock struck at 10:25 am (0925 GMT).
Monitors put its strength at between 5.1 and 5.3 magnitude. A second, 50 minutes later, was measured at 5.7 by the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) and 5.4 by Italy’s INGV. Both monitors noted the third, minutes later, at 5.3, and one of more than 100 major aftershocks was measured at 5.1 at 2.30 pm.
The tremors were felt powerfully across the Abruzzo, Lazio and Marche regions and clearly in Rome, over 100 kilometres (60 miles) away.
Residents of Aquila, where over 300 people died in a 2009 earthquake, rushed into the snow-covered streets in panic but the city suffered little damage.
Avalanche warnings were issued across a region that has a number of ski resorts and a highest peak, Gran Sasso, at 2,912 metres (9,554 feet).
A high-risk country
In Amatrice, the belltower of the 15th Century Church of Sant’Agostino collapsed. It had been damaged by the first of the earthquakes which struck the mountainous center of the country between August and October last year.
Most of those who died in that quake were in Amatrice, a beauty spot which was packed with holidaymakers at the height of the summer season.
Two further quakes rattled the region in October, with the most powerful measuring 6.5 magnitude.
Stefano Petrucci, mayor of nearby Accumoli, said roads were unpassable and bemoaned a shortage of clearance trucks. “We can’t fight a war with bows and arrows.”
The affected area is thinly populated and thousands of residents were evacuated last year pending reconstruction of their homes.
The last of the 2016 quakes, on October 30, was the most powerful since a 6.9 magnitude one struck near Naples in southern Italy in 1980, leaving 3,000 people dead.
Much of the country’s land mass and some of its surrounding waters are prone to seismic activity with the highest risk concentrated along its mountainous central spine.
Italy straddles the Eurasian and African tectonic plates, making it vulnerable when they move.
The worst disaster of the 20th century was in 1908 when an estimated 95,000 died in tidal waves following a quake in the sea between mainland Italy and Sicily.