Strong quake causes devastation in central Italy, at least 159 dead

At least 159 people have been killed after a strong earthquake struck central Italy overnight, causing widespread devastation in local towns and leaving dozens of people buried underneath the rubble, local officials say.

The 6.2-magnitude earthquake, which struck at about 3:36 a.m. local time on Wednesday, was centered about 6.6 kilometers (4.1 miles) northwest of the town of Accumoli in Rieti province, or about 44 kilometers (27 miles) northwest of the city of L'Aquila.

Towns in the area were badly damaged by the earthquake, with Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, telling state television that "half the town is gone". Photos from the affected towns showed widespread devastation as rescue workers looked for survivors.

By late Wednesday, at least 159 people were confirmed dead, according to casualty figures released by local officials. At least 60 people were killed in the towns of Amatrice and Accumoli in Rieti province, and 24 others were killed in Ascoli Piceno province, most of them in Pescara del Tronto and Arquata del Tronto.

In addition to those killed and missing, at least 360 people were being treated in hospitals across the region, but figures for the entire region were not yet available. To assist in the search and rescue operations, the army and other resources have been mobilized, according to the Ministry of Defense.

Computer models from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that 24.6 million people may have felt the earthquake, including 13,000 people who may have experienced "severe" shaking. The computer models predicted a likelihood of more than 100 fatalities as well as significant damage.

Wednesday's earthquake is the deadliest to hit Italy since a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the central region of the country in April 2009, killing at least 308 people and injuring more than 1,500 others. It was the country's worst earthquake since a 6.8-magnitude earthquake in November 1980, killing nearly 3,000 people.

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