ACCUMOLI, Italy (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake devastated a string of mountainous towns in central Italy on Wednesday, trapping residents under piles of rubble, killing at least 38 people and leaving thousands homeless.
The quake struck in the early hours of the morning when most residents were asleep, razing homes and buckling roads in a cluster of communities some 140 km (85 miles) east of Rome.
A family of four, including two boys aged 8 months and 9 years, were buried when their house in Accumoli imploded.
As rescue workers carried away the body of the infant, carefully covered by a small blanket, the children’s grandmother blamed God: “He took them all at once,” she wailed.
The army was mobilized to help with special heavy equipment and the treasury released 235 million euros ($265 million) of emergency funds. At the Vatican, Pope Francis canceled part of his general audience to pray for the victims.
The quake, located 76km southeast of Perugia, occurred at 3.36am (9.36am, Singapore time) and was felt as far as Rome. It was very shallow, 10 km deep, the USGS said.
The Italy government is in contact with the country’s civil protection agency about the quake, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s spokesman said on Twitter.
USGS’s PAGER system, which predicts the impact of earthquakes, has issued a red alert — suggesting significant casualties and damage based on previous quake data.