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Italy in ‘miraculous’ escape after fresh quake

Two months after a quake left nearly 300 dead in the country’s tremor-prone central spine, two powerful shocks ripped through the mountainous, sparsely-populated region on Wednesday evening.

Despite numerous building collapses, no deaths had been reported by midday, more than 17 hours after the first of the 5.5 and 6.1 magnitude tremors.

“Given the strength of the shocks the absence of any deaths or serious injuries, which we hope will be confirmed, is miraculous,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

The national civil protection agency described the damage as “very significant” but said they were not aware of anyone trapped under rubble.

Rescue workers began a major clean-up operation and hundreds of families were unsure where they would be living for the foreseeable future.

More than 100 aftershocks rattled the area through the night after the initial two were felt in Rome, some 175 kilometers (110 miles) away from the epicenters.

Marco Rinaldi, mayor of the village of Ussita, described “apocalyptic” scenes. “People were in the streets screaming. Many houses have collapsed. Our town is finished,” he said.

“I’ve felt a lot of earthquakes but that was the strongest I’ve ever felt. Fortunately everyone had already left their homes after the first quake so I don’t think anyone was hurt.”

Freezing Temperatures

One 70-year-old man was reported to have died of a heart attack in nearby Tolentino but that may have been coincidental.

Even in Rome, some people took to the streets as a precautionary measure, underlining lingering jitters after the summer disaster.

Wednesday’s tremors struck an area just to the north of Amatrice, the mountain town which was partially razed by the August quake and suffered the bulk of the fatalities.

The epicenters were near the village of Visso, located on the edge of the region of Marche close to the border with Umbria.

Across the region, hospitals, a university residence, a retirement home and even a prison had to be evacuated.

A top-flight football match between Pescara and Atalanta was suspended after the first shock and schools were closed Thursday across the region to allow structural safety checks to be carried out.

The civil protection agency is planning to reopen tent camps set up after the August earthquake but they will only provide a temporary solution as winter approaches.

Many mountain villages in the area are located at over 600 meters (2,000 feet) altitude and overnight temperatures will soon be falling below freezing.

Italy’s national geophysics institute said the latest quakes were linked to the August one, which was followed by thousands of aftershocks, some of them very strong.

“Aftershocks can last for a long time, sometimes for months,” geologist Mario Tozzi said.