ROME • Rescue workers scrambled to reach survivors buried under rubble in isolated towns and villages across central Italy yesterday after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake and a series of strong aftershocks struck the region overnight.
It caused the collapse of homes, rattled buildings as far away as Rome and Venice, and left at least 73 people dead and 150 missing in the mountainous heart of the country, a toll that may yet climb.
Hours later, a 6.8-magnitude quake struck central Myanmar, killing at least three people, including two children, and damaging around 60 pagodas in the ancient city of Bagan, officials said.
Some of the temples, built between the 10th and 14th centuries and a big tourist draw for the country, were seriously damaged, said director Aung Kyaw of Bagan's culture department.
Italy's quake hit a remote area straddling Umbria, Marche and Lazio, to the north of a region devastated by a quake in 2009, rousing residents and holiday-makers in terrifying fashion.
"There are still so many people under masonry, so many missing," said its head of emergency department Immacolata Postiglione.
It was Italy's most powerful earthquake since 2009, when some 300 people died in and around the city of L'Aquila.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi cancelled a planned trip to France for a meeting with European Socialist leaders and other engagements to oversee the response to the disaster.
"Half the village has disappeared," said Mr Sergio Pirozzi, mayor of Amatrice.
Amatrice is a hilltop beauty spot famed as the home of amatriciana, one of Italy's favourite pasta sauces, and is a popular destination for Romans seeking cool mountain air at the height of the summer.
The quake struck at 3.36am local time (0136 GMT). Three minutes later, the clock on the village's 13th- century tower stopped.
The first quake measured 6.2, according to the United States Geological Survey, which said it occurred at a shallow depth of 10km. It measured 6.0, according to Italian monitors.
A 5.4-magnitude aftershock followed an hour later.
Pope Francis interrupted his weekly audience in St Peter's Square to express his shock. "To hear the mayor of Amatrice say his village no longer exists and knowing that there are children among the victims, is very upsetting for me," he said.
The worst damage was suffered by Pescara del Tronto, a hamlet near Arquata in the Marche region, which "just completely disintegrated", according to local mayor Aleandro Petrucci.
Dr David Rothery, professor of Planetary Geosciences at Britain's Open University, said yesterday's quake was similar to the 2009 one, as both occurred at a shallow depth.
"Unlike the L'Aquila quake, which was preceded by swarms of smaller quakes and led to claims - unjustified in my view - that the eventual big quake should have been predicted, this one appears to have struck out of the blue," he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST