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At least five people have died after a powerful earthquake struck mountainous central Italy in the early hours of Wednesday, local media reported.
The first confirmed victims of the 6.2-magnitude quake which devastated dozens of villages were an elderly couple whose home collapsed at Pescara del Tronto in the Marche region to the east of the epicentre, national broadcaster Rai and other media reported.
One other person was reported dead at Accumoli, a village close to the epicentre, and two corpses were recovered from the rubble of a collapsed building in the small town of Amatrice.
The mayor of Arquata del Tronto, near Pescara, said that, in addition to the one confirmed death, four people were trapped under rubble and not responding to residents trying to reach them.
The mayor of Amatrice reported extensive damage.
“Half the town is gone,” Sergio Pirozzi told RAI. “There are people under the rubble… There’s been a landslide and a bridge might collapse.”
The US Geological Survey said a 6.2 magnitude quake hit near the town of Norcia, in the region of Umbria, at 3.36am (0136 GMT).
Italy’s civil protection agency said the earthquake was “severe”.
“It was so strong. It seemed the bed was walking across the room by itself with us on it,” Lina Mercantini of Ceselli, Umbria, told Reuters.
Olga Urbani, in the nearby town of Scheggino, said: “Dear God it was awful. The walls creaked and all the books fell off the shelves.”
Residents of Rome, some 170 km (105 miles) from the epicentre, were woken by the quake, which rattled furniture and swayed lights in most of central Italy.
A 5.5 magnitude aftershock hit the same region an hour after the initial quake.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s spokesman said on Twitter that the government was in touch with the civil protection agency and following the situation closely.
The last major earthquake to hit Italy struck the central city of L’Aquila in 2009, killing more than 300 people.