Italy quake toll reaches 27


Rome : Twenty-seven people were killed Monday when a major earthquake rocked the central Italian region of Abruzzo, media reports quoted hospitals as saying.

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The regional capital L’Aquila and the ancient town of Castelnuovo were especially badly hit in the quake, which had a magnitude of 5.8 on the Richter scale, and many more deaths were feared once a clearer picture emerged.

Four children were reported to have died in a hospital in L’Aquila, where numerous buildings also collapsed, including a student dormitory in the city’s historic centre, plus a four-storey building where up to 20 people were feared trapped.

The quake shook thousands of people from sleep and caused them to flee their homes. Thousands of houses were damaged, and police said numerous people were injured.

Cracks appeared in many houses after the quake, which was also felt in Rome and the Marche region.

The dome of a church in central L’Aquila caved in while the city’s cathedral was also damaged.

Emergency services authorities in Italy said the quake struck at 3.32 a.m. (0132 GMT) north of L’Aquila with a magnitude of 5.8 on the Richter scale and a depth of five kilometres.

The US Geological Survey reported the strength of the quake at 6.3, saying it was centred 95 km northeast of Rome at a depth of 10 km.

A magnitude-4.7 aftershock was reported shortly after the quake, which was preceded by two tremors with magnitudes of 3.5 and 3.9, Italian authorities said.

A section of the highway from L’Aquila to Rome was closed, and electrical and telephone services were cut off in several areas.

Emergency services informed Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and President Giorgio Napolitano of the quake and warned people living in the quake zone not to drive.