Central Italy was hit on Sunday morning by the most intense earthquake recorded in the country since 1980, and despite there were no victims, the price paid in terms of damage to towns and to the national cultural heritage was very high. A long, intense shock has rattled the heart of peninsular Italy at 7.41 local time (6.41 GMT), in an area in the province of Macerata, in the Marche region. The magnitude was initially measured 7.1, then it was revised down to 6.1 and finally to 6.5. The epicenter was located at around 5 kilometres from the town of Norcia, where the Church of St. Benedict was completely destroyed. The last time that an earthquake so strong hit Italy was on November 23rd, 1980 when a 6.5 shock hit an area of southern Italy called Irpinia, causing at least 2,483 deaths.
The chief of the Italian Civil Protection, Fabrizio Curcio, said that "at the moment there are no reports of deaths, but there are a dozen of slightly injured people". "We are able to handle the situation. The shock was felt throughout all Italy", he then added. Interior minister Angelino Alfano highlighted the huge amount of people involved in the huge rescue effort, saying that 1,300 responders are active in the affected areas. In hours following the strongest quake, around 200 aftershocks were recorded. The symbol of Sunday's disaster is the XVII century church of St. Benedict, which was reduced to crumbles by the earthquake. The campanile collapsed, and only part of the facade is still standing. Many other buildings in the town suffered major damage, especially whitin the medieval walls.
Six people were extracted from the rubbles and taken with a helicopter to a hospital, but their condition is not deemed as life threatening. Thousands of people are now without a home and the commissioner for rebuilding, Vasco Errani, said that those who can't go back to their houses should accept to be hosted in hotels on the coast. "Sleeping in cars is nonsense, we don't want to deport anybody, but we want that they spend spend the night without worries", Errani said. "Some people have already accepted to be transfered on the coast, six or seven buses have already left. The transfer is the best solution, we have to set out a general strategy and we need some hours to figure out the needs and to complete the list of the people whose houses are not habitable" because of the damage, he added.