Italy was hit by four earthquakes in four hours on Wednesday, bringing fear and foreboding to the same mountainous region that was struck by deadly tremors last year.
They affected already badly-damaged towns and villages in the regions of Abruzzo, Lazio and Marche, where around 300 people lost their lives last August.
The area is blanketed in heavy snow after unusually severe winter weather over the last week. Snowstorms made the job of emergency services even harder than usual, with vehicles struggling to reach remote areas to check on mountain villages and outlying farms.
The quakes were so strong that they caused buildings in distant Rome to shake, with office workers rushing out onto the streets, schools ordered to close and the metro temporarily suspended.
The first tremor happened at 10.25am local time, with the last felt shortly after 2.30pm. The magnitudes of the quakes varied between 5.3 and 5.7.
The bell tower of a church was brought crashing down in Amatrice, the hilltop town that was worst hit by the August earthquake.
The epicentre was the village of Montereale, north of the city of L’Aquila, which was devastated by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in 2009 that killed 300 people.
“Everyone is outside. It’s very cold and windy,” said Lina Mercantini, who lives in the village of Ceselli in Umbria, 50 miles from the epicentre. “This is totally unnerving. It’s never ending. We are all shaking.”
The earthquakes compounded an already difficult situation. The bad weather has left around 100,000 people without power, and there were warnings of possible avalanches.
“The problem is not so much the earthquakes but the snow – there are isolated hamlets which are covered in two metres of snow,” said Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice.
“The situation is really getting extreme,” said the mayor of Canzano, Franco Campitelli. “It’s snowing hard. We’re without electricity. We hope the army gets here soon with snow ploughs or we risk being completely isolated,” he told the TV channel Sky TG24.
Paolo Gentiloni, the prime minister, said it was a “difficult day” for Italy. “Luckily it seems there were no deaths,” he said, speaking in Berlin after a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Since the first big quake struck on Aug 24, the region has been shaken by more than 45,000 aftershocks, geologists said.
Timeline A century of major earthquakes in Italy
August 24, 2016
A devastating 6.2 magnitude earthquake rips through central Italy, killing hundreds and leaving thousands homeless.
May 29, 2012
More than 16 people are killed and 350 injured in the second big earthquake to hit the area around Modena in northern Italy. An earlier quake nine days earlier killed nearly 10 people.
April 6, 2009
A powerful earthquake strikes the Abruzzo area east of Rome, devastating the 13th century city of L’Aquila.
October 31, 2002
An earthquake measuring 5.9 hits Campobasso, south-central Italy. Most of the fatalities are children.
July 17, 2001
Earthquake measuring 5.2 shakes the northern Italian region of Alto Adige, killing one woman.
September 26, 1997
Two earthquakes measuring 6.4 cause serious damage to the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, damaging priceless Medieval frescoes.
December 13, 1990
Sea off Sicily
Earthquake centred in the sea off Sicily kills 13 people and injures 200.
November 23, 1980
Some 2,735 people are killed and more than 7,500 injured in an earthquake measuring 6.5. The epicentre was at Eboli but damage was reported over a huge area towards Naples.
May 6, 1976
An earthquake measuring 6.5 rocks Friuli in Italy’s northeastern corner, leaving 70,000 homeless.
July 27, 1930
A quake measuring 6.5 strikes the region of Irpinia in southern Italy.
January 13, 1915
Some 32,600 are killed when an earthquake measuring 7.0 strikes Avezzano in central Italy.
December 28, 1908
A 7.2 magnitude earthquake reduces Sicily’s second largest city Messina to rubble and damages the city of Reggio Calabria across the straits on the mainland