- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

L’AQUILA, ITALY (AP) - A strong earthquake struck central Italy early Monday, killing at least six people, causing buildings to collapse and sending thousands of panicked residents into the streets, officials and news reports said.

Officials said the death toll was likely to increase as dawn rose over L’Aquila and firefighters made their way through the debris. Rescue workers were trying to rescue people from collapsed homes, including a student dormitory where a half dozen students remained trapped inside, RAI state TV reported.

A student who was not named told RAI they were woken up by the quake and ran down the stairs of the dorm before the roof collapsed.

Several people were also reported missing in the area of the quake, which was felt in much of central Italy, including Rome.

Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics said the magnitude was 5.8, while the U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.3. The temblor struck about 70 miles (110 kilometers) northeast of Rome at about 3:32 a.m. local time (0132 GMT, 9:32 p.m. EDT), officials said. The Civil Protection Department said the epicenter was near the city of L’Aquila, in the mountainous Abruzzo region.

“The situation is very serious because the quake affected buildings,” said Luca Spoletini, spokesman for the national Civil Protection Department. He declined to give a death toll, saying rescue operations were under way.

Television footage from the scene showed residents and rescue workers already hauling away debris from collapsed buildings and bloodied residents waiting to be tended to in hospital hallways.

Four children died in L’Aquila after their houses collapsed, the ANSA news agency said.

Massimo Cialente, mayor of L’Aquila, told Sky TG24 that two other people were reported dead in the nearby small town of Fossa. He confirmed reports that another eight were missing in another small town.

The ANSA news agency said the dome of a church in l’Aquila collapsed and the city’s cathedral also suffered damages.

Cialente said some 100,000 people had left their homes and that many buildings in the city’s historic center were damaged.

The quake was the latest in a series of jolts that struck the area over the past two days.

L’Aquila, a medieval city, lies in a valley surrounded by the Apennine mountains. It is the regional capital of Abruzzo, with about 70,000 inhabitants.

The last major quake to hit central Italy was a 5.4-magnitude temblor that struck the south-central Molise region Oct. 31, 2002, killing 28 people, including 27 children who died when their school collapsed.

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