(ANSA) – Rome, August 24 – The provisional death toll from an earthquake that hit central Italy early Wednesday has risen to 120, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told a press conference in Rieti.
The toll may rise, he said, adding “now is the time for tears, prayer and emotion” and vowing swift and successful reconstruction.
“It will take a long time to handle this emergency”, he added, saying cabinet would take the first “immediate” measures Thursday morning.
The 6.0-magnitude quake flattened mountain towns between Lazio, Umbria and Marche. Some 64 people are known to have died in the village of Amatrice near Rieti alone.
The earthquake, which struck at 03:36 local time and was followed by a second, 5.4 magnitude seism at 04:33 between Umbria and the Marche, was said by civil protection authorities to be “comparable in intensity” to the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake in which over 300 people died.
A few hundred were reported injured and an unspecified number of people were still missing as of the early evening on Wednesday. About 200 aftershocks were felt, the strongest of which had a magnitude of 4.9 on the Richer scale.
Renzi visited Amatrice where he met with the head of the civil protection agency and the infrastructure and transport minister, Grazinao Delrio.
There were reports of “apocalyptic scenes” with many collapsed buildings in the towns and villages affected. Rescuers had difficulty accessing the area due to landslides and damaged infrastructure.
Many people were saved by rescue workers who used even their hands to dig out survivors, including an 11-year-old boy whose calls for help from under the ruins of his home and a 43-year-old whose legs were stuck under rubble for hours. United States Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday called Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni to voice condolences to the Italian government and confirmed the US’s readiness to respond to any requests for help, echoing a similar offer made to President Sergio Mattarella by President Barack Obama.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his condolences and the pope said he was “greatly affected” after hearing the mountain village of Amatrice was razed to the ground.
L’Aquila Mayor Massimo Cialente said 250 temporary homes built after the 2009 earthquake were available for the newly displaced. The Rieti provincial chapter of Italian blood donation charity AVIS has put out a call for people to donate blood for the injured.
Mayor Stefano Petrucci said 2,500 people had been displaced from their homes.
The national emergency fund has 234 million euros that will be used for immediate aid to earthquake-stricken towns and villages in central Italy, the economy ministry said.