At least 250 people died, and thousands were displaced in Italy, after a major earthquake that struck the central Lazio and Marche regions on early Wednesday, the authorities confirmed on Thursday.
The hardest hit places were the towns of Amatrice and Accumoli in Rieti province, and the villages of Arquata del Tronto and Peschiera del Tronto in Marche region.
Of the total 250 victims confirmed so far, some 193 were in Amatrice, 11 in Accumoli, and 46 in Arquata del Tronto, the civil protection department said.
The number of people injured and hospitalized rose to 365, it added.
The Italian government declared a state of emergency in the affected areas, after holding an emergency meeting on Thursday afternoon.
“The reconstruction of quake-stricken hamlets is a priority, and a moral obligation towards those communities,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told a press conference after the meeting.
The state of emergency will allow allocating an immediate first tranche of 50 million euros (56 million U.S. dollars) to assist those displaced.
On Wednesday, the Economy Ministry had overall pledged 234 million euros (264 million U.S. dollars) from a national emergency fund to help people living in the destroyed towns.
Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan would now provide tax exemption to the families living in the areas.
In Amatrice, Accumoli, and Arquata, rescue teams kept digging for survivors all day long. The 6.0-magnitude temblor that struck on Wednesday at 3:36 a.m. local time (0136 GMT) obliterated most of these centers.
The death toll also needed to be constantly updated, since many remained unaccounted for.
The affected area was a popular destination for holidaymakers, and the population swelled in summer, making it harder to exactly estimate how many people were present at the time of the quake.
Meanwhile, several tent cities were set up around Accumoli, Arquata and Pescara del Tronto. In Amatrice, displaced families spent last night in the town’s main sport facility.
Overall, some 3,400 places were made available since Wednesday, and about 1,200 people were accommodated there, according to Italian civil protection emergency chief Titti Postiglione.
Many families preferred to spend the first night after the quake in their cars.
As time goes by, the chance to find someone still alive under the rubbles would grow weaker. Furthermore, over 600 aftershocks have been registered since Wednesday, and some of them intense, making search activities more risky.
A 4.3-magnitude quake was indeed registered in Rieti province at 2:36 p.m. local time (1236 GMT) on Thursday, according to the National Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (INGV).
It made some damaged buildings in Amatrice tremble dangerously, and more ruins collapsed where rescuers were at work.
Overall, nine quakes of magnitude between 4.0 and 5.0, and one exceeding magnitude 5.0 have occurred till Thursday mid-afternoon, the INGV stated.
After the emergency meeting, Renzi noted the country’s need to improve its seismic safety.
Criticism have rose among people and media analysts for the lack of sufficient buildings safety standards in the affected areas, all of them known for centuries for being at high seismic risk.
Renzi stressed that a serious long-term plan of reconstruction was needed.