The earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.6 that rocked Italy on Sunday morning is believed to be the strongest quake to strike the country since 1980, reports the AP. A 6.9-magnitude quake in southern Campania that year killed some 3,000 people and caused extensive damage. The Apennine region of central Italy, located along a major fault line, has been the site of dozens of significant earthquakes since then. A 6.1-magnitude earthquake on Aug. 24 quake killed nearly 300 people and flattened entire villages. Officials have blamed shoddy construction for the comparatively high death toll from the August quake. The hilltop town of Amatrice, in particular, suffered significant damage, including in newly constructed buildings. To date, Italy's deadliest quake in recent history remains the 1908 Messina quake that killed tens of thousands of people.
The head of Italy's civil protection agency says there are no immediate reports of deaths. Fabrizio Curcio said some people suffered injuries as numerous buildings that had resisted temblors in August and last week collapsed. Curcio says the agency is using helicopters to tend to the injured and to assess damage. He says 1,300 people displaced Wednesday by a pair of powerful aftershocks to an August quake that killed nearly 300 had been evacuated to the coast in recent days. The ancient city of Norcia, famed for its Benedictine monastery and its cured meats, was one of the locations hardest-hit. Eyewitnesses said the St. Benedict cathedral, the 14th century cathedral in one of the city's main piazza, crumbled in the Sunday quake and only its facade remains. Priests prayed in the piazza amid the rubble. Norcia city assessor Giuseppina Perla tells ANSA, "It's as if the whole city fell down." (Read more earthquake stories.)