The death toll from a powerful earthquake that shook central Italy rose to 247 on Thursday, officials said, as rescuers desperately worked through the night to try to find survivors in the rubble of devastated mountain villages.
Hundreds of others were injured, some critically, and an unknown number were trapped under the ruins of collapsed buildings after Wednesday’s pre-dawn quake.
Amid scenes of carnage, dozens of emergency services staff and volunteers were determined to attempt to pluck more survivors from the ruins.
Rescuers had pledged to work through the night in the hope of finding people alive in the mangled wreckage of homes.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had earlier warned that the toll would likely rise after visiting the badly hit village of Amatrice.
Hundreds of people spent a chilly night in hastily assembled tents with the risk of aftershocks making it too risky for them to return home.
Scores of buildings were reduced to dusty piles of masonry in communities close to the epicenter of the quake, which had a magnitude of between 6.0 and 6.2.
It hit a remote area straddling Umbria, Marche and Lazio at a time of year when second-home owners and other visitors swell the numbers staying there. Many of the victims were from Rome.
The devastated area is just north of L’Aquila, the city where some 300 people died in another quake in 2009.
Most of the deaths occurred in and around the villages of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto.
Renzi said it was too early to consider what might have been done to prevent the disaster.
“Today is the time for tears and emotion,” he said, vowing that his government would start reconstruction work first thing on Thursday.
“Tomorrow we can talk of reconstruction,” he told reporters late on Wednesday.
It was Italy’s most powerful earthquake since the 2009 disaster in L’Aquila.
“Half the village has disappeared,” said Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi, surveying a town center that looked as if had been subjected to a bombing raid.
Aerial photographs showed whole areas of Amatrice, last year voted one of Italy’s most beautiful historic towns, flattened by the quake. Inhabitants of the four worst-hit small towns rise by as much as tenfold in the summer, and many of those killed or missing were visitors.
The tremors were strong enough to be felt 150 kilometers away in Rome, where authorities ordered structural tests on the Colosseum.
Some of the worst damage was in Pescara del Tronto, a hamlet near Arquata in the Marche region where the bodies of the dead were laid out in a children’s park.
With residents advised not to go back into their homes, temporary campsites were being set up in Amatrice and Accumoli as authorities looked to find emergency accommodation for more than 2,000 people.
The first quake measured 6.2, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
It measured 6.0 according to Italian monitors, who put the depth at only four kilometers. A 5.4-magnitude aftershock followed an hour later.