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Second powerful aftershock rattles Italy, crumbling buildings and causing panic

Residents walk past rubble in the village of Visso, in central Italy, after an earthquake on Wednesday.
(Matteo Crocchioni / ANSA)

A pair of strong aftershocks shook central Italy late Wednesday, crumbling churches and buildings, knocking out power and sending panicked residents into the rain-drenched streets just two months after a powerful earthquake killed nearly 300 people.

One person was injured in the epicenter of Visso, where the rubble of collapsed buildings tumbled into the streets. But the Civil Protection agency, which initially reported two injured, had no other immediate reports of injuries or deaths.

The first quake of the night carried a magnitude of 5.4, but the second one was eight times stronger, at 6.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Because many residents had already left their homes after the first one struck at 7:10 p.m. local time, with plans to spend the night in their cars or elsewhere, they weren’t home when the second one hit two hours later, possibly saving lives, news reports said.

“It was an unheard-of violence. Many houses collapsed,” Ussita Mayor Marco Rinaldi told Sky TG24. “The facade of the church collapsed. By now I have felt many earthquakes. This is the strongest of my life. It was something terrible.”

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Rinaldo said two elderly people were rescued from their home, where they were trapped. He said they appeared to be in good condition. Some 200 people in Ussita will sleep in the streets, given the difficulty of putting up tents in the night.

Calling it “apocalyptic,” he said the town and its hamlets were “finished.” ’'People are screaming on the street, and now we are without lights.”

A church crumbled in the ancient Perugian town of Norcia, famed for its Benedictine monastery and its cured meats. A bell tower damaged on Aug. 24 fell and crushed a building in Camerino, the ANSA news agency said. Elsewhere, buildings were damaged, though many were in zones that were declared off-limits after the Aug. 24 quake that flattened parts of three towns.

“We’re without power, waiting for emergency crews,” said Mauro Falcucci, the mayor of Castelsantangelo sul Nera, near the epicenter. Speaking to Sky TG24, he said: “We can’t see anything. It’s tough. Really tough.”

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He said some buildings had collapsed but there were no immediate reports of injuries in his community. He added that darkness and a downpour were impeding a full accounting.

Italy’s national vulcanology center said the 7:10 p.m. quake had an epicenter in the Macerata area, near Perugia in the quake-prone Apennine Mountain chain. The USGS put the epicenter near Visso and said it had a depth of some six miles.

The second aftershock struck at 9:18 p.m. with a similar depth.

Experts say even relatively modest quakes that have shallow depths can cause significant damage because the seismic waves are closer to the surface. But seismologist Gianluca Valensise said a 6.2-mile depth is within the norm for an Apennine temblor.

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The Aug. 24 quake, which also had a depth of about six miles, destroyed the hilltop village of Amatrice and other nearby towns. ilometers. Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi said residents felt the quake. "We are thanking God that there are no dead and no injured,” he added. 

Wednesday’s quake was felt from Perugia in Umbria to the capital Rome to the central Italian town of L’Aquila, which was struck by a deadly quake in 2009. The mayor of L’Aquila, however, said there were no immediate reports of damage there.

A section of a major state highway north of Rome, the Salaria, was closed near Arquata del Tronto as a precaution because of a quake-induced landslide, said a spokeswoman for the civil protection agency, Ornella de Luca.

Aleandro Petrucci, the mayor of Arquata del Tronco, said the quake felt stronger than the August temblor, which devastated parts of his town. But he said there were no reports of injuries yet and that the zone hardest hit by the last quake remained uninhabitable.

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“We don’t worry because there is no one in the red zone, if something fell, walls fell,” he said.

In Rome, some 145 miles southwest of the epicenter, centuries-old palazzi shook and officials at the Foreign Ministry evacuated the building.

Both quakes were aftershocks of the magnitude 6.2 earthquake from two months ago. Because they were so close to the surface, they had the potential to cause more shaking and more damage, “coupled with infrastructure that’s vulnerable to shaking,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle.

“They have a lot of old buildings that weren’t constructed at a time with modern seismic codes,” he said.

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Given the size, depth and location of the quakes, the USGS estimates that about 12 million people likely felt at least weak shaking.

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UPDATES:

2:20 p.m.: This article was updated with news that one person was injured and more details about damage.

This article was originally published at 12:45 p.m.

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