AT least 159 people died amid apocalyptic scenes yesterday as an earthquake tore down four Italian towns and flattened out- lying villages, according to The Sun. Priests joined survivors in digging bare-handed for loved ones, stopping only to bless the dead.
Hundreds were injured and thousands left needing emergency shelter in mountainous countryside strewn with landslides and collapsed bridges. The 6.2 magnitude ’quake struck at 3.35am local time and devastated the region of Umbria, near holiday hotspot Perugia.
An eight-month-old boy and his nine-year-old brother were among a family of four killed in Accumoli. As their blanket-draped bodies were carried away, an old woman sobbed that God “took them all at once”.
In Amatrice, voted one of Italy’s most beautiful towns, at least 35 people died and mayor Sergio Pirozzi said simply: “The town isn’t here any more.” Surrounded by debris, its 13th-century clock tower still stood, its face frozen at the time the carnage began.
Resident Emiliano Grillotti told how 15 rescuers were digging with their hands to reach a mum and child, saying: “They can hear the screams.” Three nuns were among the missing. Priest Fabio Gammarota said he had blessed seven bodies and added: “One was a friend of mine.”
The local hospital had to be evacuated during the ’quake — and was then inundated with victims. Patient Paola Mancini, 79, said: “The first ambulance arrived, a man on a stretcher was injured, covered by blood and shocked.
“Although I live here I didn’t recognise him. He was crying and kept saying, ‘My wife is dead because our house collapsed.’ “It has been a long and terrible shock. We remain paralysed by terror.
“There have been moments of panic, but the nurses have been very professional.” Whole neighbourhoods were reduced to ruins. Mayor Mr Pirozzi added: “The roads in and out of town are cut off.
“There are tens of victims, so many under the rubble. We’re preparing a place for the bodies.” Teddy bears and children’s toys were visible amid mounds of wreckage. Elsewhere the entire front of homes had been stripped away, exposing surprising scenes of normality with paintings still on walls and furniture left intact.
All that remained of another house was a chest of drawers balancing precariously over the edge of a shattered floor. Maria Gianni said: “The whole ceiling of my house fell but did not hit me. I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn’t hit, luckily. I just slightly injured my leg.”
Dazed families huddled in piazzas as 150 aftershocks rocked the region over 12 hours — some as strong as magnitude 5.5. Nearby a woman was pulled alive from rubble, followed by a dog. Another woman, sitting in front of her destroyed home, did not know if her family were alive.
She said: “There’s nothing left. I don’t know what we’ll do.” In nearby Configno one witness said: “It was a nightmare. We woke up at 3.35am, the furniture falling down, walls moving more than a metre.”
A newborn baby was pulled lifeless from a family home in Arquarta del Tronto. Tearful Accumoli mayor Stefano Petrucci said: “Now daylight has come, we see that the situation is even more dreadful than we feared, with buildings collapsed, people trapped under the rubble and no sound of life.”
The ‘quake struck during the holiday season when the population of the usually quiet towns swells with tourists. To the north in Illica, visitor Agostino Severo said: “People were crying, ‘Help, help’.”
Thomson holiday rep Donna Scrivener, 48, said she and boyfriend John Dodds, 45, trembled with fear as the ’quake shook their house to its foundations. The mum of three, from Halifax but living in Foligno, said: “We were lying in bed when I heard what I thought was thunder and lightning but then the house started shaking.
“The table by my bed started shaking and the glass of water went over — it was just surreal. “The house was literally moving under my feet. A medieval church toppled over.” The epicentre was just 40 miles north of L’Aquila, where more than 300 people were killed in a 2009 earthquake.
Yesterday the town sent emergency teams to help with the rescue. Even Rome, where the Pope led prayers, felt strong tremors with residents describing swaying followed by aftershocks. In the disaster zone sniffer dogs and earth-moving equipment moved in.
As tent cities with mobile kitchens sprang up, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi vowed: “No family, no city, no hamlet will be left behind.”