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Death toll rises to at least 159 as Italy counts cost of massive earthquake

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan urged anyone with concerns of Irish casualties to contact his department.

Updated at 11.09pm

usgeog A map from the US Geological Survey shows the epicentre of the quake. Source: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/

THE DEATH TOLL from the powerful earthquake that struck central Italy overnight has risen to 159 people.

As rescue-workers struggle through the debris in central Italy, the country’s civil protection agency has raised the death toll to 159.

That is up from 120 earlier today, when Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warned that the figure could still rise.

Some 368 people were injured in the tremor, he said at a press conference in the Rieti region, not far from the epicentre of the 6.2 magnitude quake.

“This is not a final toll,” Renzi added.

Immacolata Postiglione, the head of the unit’s emergency department, announced the new toll at a press conference in Rome as rescue efforts continued in the mountain villages devastated by the quake.

earthquake A victim is pulled out of the rubble following an earthquake in Amatrice, Italy. Source: Alessandra Tarantino/AP/Press Association Images

The quake, which struck in the early hours, devastated dozens of villages. The epicentre was around 10km southeast of Norcia, according to the US Geological Survey – and the effects were even felt in Rome, around 160km away.

Deaths were reported in several villages in a mountainous area straddling the regions of Lazio and Marche.

Italy Quake Rescuers search for survivors through the rubble of collapsed buildings in Amatrice. Source: Alessandra Tarantino

President Michael D Higgins has sent his condolences to Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

In the letter President Higgins offered his condolences, on behalf of the people of Ireland, on the tragic loss of life that has occurred following the earthquake in Umbria.

Elderly couple

An elderly couple whose home collapsed at Pescara del Tronto in the Marche region were the first confirmed victims early this morning, according to national broadcaster Rai.

One other person was reported dead at Accumoli, a village close to the epicentre, and two corpses were recovered from the rubble of a collapsed building in Amatrice.

Italy Quake A post office is engulfed by rubble in Arcuata del Tronto, central Italy Source: Sandro Perozzi

The mayor of Arquata del Tronto, near Pescara, said that, in addition to the one confirmed death, four people were trapped under rubble and not responding to residents trying to reach them.

The mayor of Amatrice has reportedly said “half the town is gone”.

Many buildings in centre of Amatrice were razed by the 6.2 magnitude quake, which struck at 3.36am local time (2.36am Irish time).

As dawn broke, residents with shovels and emergency workers with bulldozers were beginning to try to reach people trapped under the debris and clear blocked roads.

Condolences

In Dublin, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he was saddened to hear of the devastating earthquake in Umbria.

“I want to convey my deepest condolences to the Italian government and to offer heartfelt sympathy to the families and friends of those affected by the disaster,” he said.

The Irish Embassy in Rome is monitoring the situation and, to date, has received no confirmation of Irish casualties.

The minister urged anyone with concerns to contact hi department on 01 408 2000.

In a report earlier, the Reuters news agency says that while the quake caused serious damage to a number of towns, it did not seem to have hit heavily populated areas.

“Now that daylight has come, we see that the situation is even more dreadful than we feared,” Accumoli mayor Stefano Petrucci is quoted as saying.

amatrice Two corpses were recovered from Amatrice (above) to the north-east of Rome. Source: Google Maps

Charlotte Smith, who coaches Elon University women’s basketball team in the US state of North Carolina, was in Rome with her team when the quake hit.

She told CNN:

It lasted for at least 30 seconds. The entire hotel was shaking.
I went down to the lobby and there were a lot of people waiting there … Then an earthquake happened 30 minutes later.

Michael Gilroy, who spoke to the US news channel from Montepulciano, to the north of Rome, said:

It felt like the bed was on rollers.
It was initially very confusing. I’m from California and had a sense of what it may be. And we ran out to the main area and the chandelier was swaying back and forth. At that point, we knew we had to get out of the building as fast as we can.

Italy Quake An elderly man is given assistance in Amatrice this morning. Source: Alessandra Tarantino

Irish embassy 

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said its embassy in Rome is monitoring the situation.

There have been no requests for consular assistance, but the embassy stands ready to provide assistance if required, the spokesperson said.

With reporting from AFP, Associated Press, Órla Ryan and Darragh Peter Murphy.

Read: Rio police publish emails between Pat Hickey and THG discussing sale of Ireland’s Olympics tickets >

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