VISSO (Italy) • Italy has vowed to rebuild every home destroyed after two powerful earthquakes that forced thousands to flee in terror but "miraculously" did not cause any fatalities.
Two months after tremors in the same area left nearly 300 dead, the twin quakes ripped through a mountainous, sparsely populated part of central Italy on Wednesday.
Despite numerous building collapses, no deaths were reported in the aftermath of the 5.5- and 6.1-magnitude tremors.
"Given the strength of the shocks, the absence of any deaths or serious injuries is miraculous," said Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Thursday, while Prime Minister Matteo Renzi headed to the scene to help oversee rescue efforts.
At least 4,000 people will not be able to return to their homes in the immediate term, according to civil protection officials.
The government announced the release of €40 million (S$61 million) and extended a state of emergency declared after the deadly August quake.
"We will rebuild everything, 100 per cent, that is the government's commitment," said Mr Vasco Errani, the reconstruction supremo appointed after the August disaster.
More than 200 aftershocks rattled the area through the night and into Thursday after the initial two were felt in Rome, some 175km away from the epicentres.
Many people spent Wednesday night in their cars, battered by driving rain. The sun came out on Thursday, but the scale of the task will become clear only in the days and weeks to come.
Mr Marco Rinaldi, mayor of the village of Ussita, said: "People were in the streets screaming. Many houses have collapsed. Our town is finished.
"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."
Geologist Mario Tozzi said the damage was caused by a new quake, rather than, as first thought, aftershocks from the August one. He said the twin tremors were consistent with a pattern of seismic "double strikes" in the central Apennines.
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 epicentres were near the village of Visso, located on the edge of the region of Marche close to the border with Umbria.
"Not a single house is usable", whether because they were totally destroyed, suffered cracks or were just rendered unstable, said Visso mayor Giulio Pazzaglini, talking to villagers in a Red Cross reception centre.