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Strong Earthquake Strikes Central Italy While Residents Slept


The sun rose in central Italy this morning to reveal piles of rubble in small mountain villages. A 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit at about 3:30 a.m. local time. At least 37 people are reported killed, and an untold number are said to be still missing. We reached one eyewitness shortly after the quake. Andrew Willmot (ph) was at his vacation home about 30 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake.

ANDREW WILLMOT: We were woken at 3:30 in the morning. It took about a second to figure out what was happening. And the first floor was being tossed to one side by a displacement of about three or four inches. It brought the contents of shelves onto the floor. Glasses was smashed. The ceiling partially came down.

GREENE: And to talk more about this, let's bring in Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press. She's on the line from the AP's bureau in Rome. Nicole, good morning.

NICOLE WINFIELD: Good morning.

GREENE: So where exactly was the epicenter of this earthquake? Kind of give us the geography here if you can.

WINFIELD: The epicenter is around Norcia and Accumoli, which are about 150 kilometers northeast of Rome. It was felt, though, in the capital and as far east as the Adriatic.

GREENE: So you felt it in Rome this morning?

WINFIELD: Yes, it woke me up. We felt the room swaying. It was very slow and gentle, but we knew immediately that it was - that it was a quake. We felt them before, and it was long and very obvious.

GREENE: And what reports of damage and deaths and injuries are you getting at this point?

WINFIELD: Well, the Civil Protection Agency has, as you've said, confirmed 37 dead as a preliminary toll. The reports of damage there are enormous. You see images of entire towns that have just been completely razed. These are old towns where the buildings are old, and they're just crumbled under - under the shock of this quake. There's no estimate yet financially, but there are three towns that are known to be quite hard-hit, and rescue crews are still trying to get through to people who are believed to be trapped under the debris.

GREENE: You say rescue crews trying to get there. I mean, these are - these are pretty small, isolated places in the mountains of the central part of the country. Have they been known to be vulnerable to earthquakes? Were people ready for something like this to happen?

WINFIELD: This is a very seismic area. These are the Apennine Mountains, and they get - they get hit by quakes. We had a big one in 2009, and no one was expecting it.

GREENE: OK, we'll be following this story throughout the day. Again, a 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit in central Italy. Nicole Winfield on the line with us from the Associated Press in Rome. Thanks very much.

WINFIELD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.