Asked if there were any dead, the mayor of the central Italian town of Amatrice, hit hard by an overnight quake, said, "Look there are houses that aren't here anymore. ... the town isn't here anymore." The quake—being reported variously as between magnitude 6.0 and 6.2—struck shortly after 3:30am, collapsing homes on top of residents as they slept, and was followed by dozens of aftershocks, reports the AP. Along with Amatrice, which sits 80 miles northeast of Rome, Pescara del Tronto and Accumoli were among the hardest-hit towns; at least 73 people are dead, per AP. Reuters reports those towns are located in the "mountainous heart of the country," which makes for a more complicated rescue effort.
ANSA quotes civil protection authorities as calling Wednesday's quake "comparable in intensity" to the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake that took 300 lives, and witnesses are describing "apocalyptic scenes." A man whose home collapsed in Via Costanzo Angelini tells ANSA, "Ten seconds were enough to destroy everything. I can remember the L'Aquila earthquake, it lasted longer. Here everything happened in a flash." The center of Amatrice was devastated, reports the AP, with entire buildings razed and the air thick with dust and smelling strongly of gas. "It was one of the most beautiful towns of Italy and now there's nothing left," said one woman, too distraught to give her name. "I don't know what we'll do." (Read more earthquake stories.)