Norcia was flattened by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake and only a facade remains of the 14th century St. Benedict Cathedral.
Norcia, Italy (AP) — Another powerful earthquake shook Central Italy on Sunday, sending panicked residents running into piazzas, raining boulders onto highways and toppling a Benedictine cathedral and other historic edifices that had withstood several recent quakes. There were no immediate reports of deaths.
The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.6 was the strongest to strike the country in nearly 36 years, hitting a mountainous region northeast of Rome where people were still unnerved after a pair of jolts last week and an August quake that killed nearly 300.
Some 20 people suffered minor injuries. That there were no reports of fatalities was largely due to the fact that thousands had left their homes after the earlier temblors.
Closest to the epicenter was the ancient city of Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict, the father of monasticism, and famed for its Benedictine monastery. Witnesses said the 14th century St. Benedict Cathedral collapsed in the quake, with only the facade still standing.
“It’s as if the whole city fell down,” Norcia City Assessor Giuseppina Perla told the ANSA news agency. The city’s ancient walls suffered damage, as did another famous Norcia church, St. Mary Argentea, known for its 15th century frescoes.
Television images showed nuns rushing into the main piazza as the bell tower appeared on the verge of collapse. Later, nuns and monks knelt in prayer in the main piazza. A firefighter appealed to a priest to help keep residents calm in an effort to prevent them from looking for loved ones.
Mayors in some towns, including Castelsantangelo sul Nera, said coffins had been pushed out of their resting place inside cemeteries, which in Italy are typically walled structures.
“The scene is indescribable,” Mayor Mauro Falcucci told ANSA.
The quake struck a cluster of mountain towns, many of historic significance, already reeling from last week’s pair of aftershocks to last August’s deadly quake, including Norcia, Visso, Castelsantangelo sul Nero and Preci.
Some towns and smaller settlements were left isolated by landslides that blocked the roads, and the civil protection authority was responding with helicopters to help the injured, while also monitoring damage.
Italy Quake: Norcia Tremor Destroys Ancient Buildings
The 6.6-magnitude quake – Italy’s strongest in decades – struck close to the region where nearly 300 people were killed by a quake in August.
This time no-one appears to have died, but about 20 people were injured.
The medieval basilica of St Benedict in Norcia, the town closest to the epicentre, was among buildings destroyed.
An evacuation of buildings in the region deemed vulnerable to seismic activity last week, following strong aftershocks from August’s quake, may have saved lives.
Tremors from this latest earthquake were felt in the capital Rome, where the Metro system was shut down, and as far away as Venice in the north.
Why multiple quakes are hitting Italy – by Jonathan Amos, BBC science correspondent
We have now seen three magnitude-6 tremors in Italy’s Apennines region in just three months.
The big picture is reasonably well understood. Wider tectonic forces in the Earth’s crust have led to the Apennines being pulled apart at a rate of roughly 3mm per year – about a 10th of the speed at which your fingernails grow.
But this stress is then spread across a multitude of different faults that cut through the mountains. And this network is fiendishly complicated.
It does now look as though August’s event broke two neighbouring faults, starting on one known as the Laga and then jumping across to one called the Vettore.
The mid-week tremors appear to have further broken the northern end of the Vettore. But both in August and mid-week, it seems only the top portions of the faults have gone, and the big question is whether the deeper segments have now failed in the latest event.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock