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Italy earthquake death toll rises

World

The death toll from the magnitude-six earthquake that struck Italy has risen to at least 250 but is expected to rise.

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Dozens of emergency workers with sniffer dogs continue searching through piles of debris trying to find survivors, while cranes remove huge slabs of fallen masonry.

The magnitude 6.2 quake struck on Wednesday and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome, with small villages copping the brunt of the damage.

Residents wakened before dawn by the tremor emerged from their crumbled homes to find what they described as apocalyptic scenes “like Dante’s Inferno”, with entire blocks of buildings turned into piles of sand and rock, thick dust choking the air and a putrid smell of gas.

Visiting the affected region, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said: “It is a pain without limits.”

“We will leave nobody on their own,” he pledged earlier in the day as he thanked people for aiding the rescue effort.

The quake was felt as far away as Rome, which lies about 150km south-west of the epicentre, which lay at a depth of 4.2km in a wooded area in the province of Rieti.

It was followed by more than 50 aftershocks, the strongest a 5.4-magnitude quake.

“Half of the town is gone,” said Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi.

Amatrice’s hospital was evacuated, and its 15 patients were moved out into the street. People injured from the earthquake were also taken there.

The European Union offered whatever aid it could, including access to satellite navigation services to better survey the scene.

“We stand, as ever, in solidarity with the Italian nation and are ready to assist in any way we can,” tweeted European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella appealed for solidarity during a “moment of pain and of appeal to common responsibility”.

“The immediate need is to engage all forces to save lives, care for the wounded and ensure the best conditions for the displaced,” he said.

The disaster has already prompted an outpouring of sympathy.

Pope Francis said he was nearly at a loss for words.

“Hearing the mayor of Amatrice saying that the town doesn’t exist any more and knowing that there are children among the victims has moved me deeply,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also offered his thoughts and prayers at this “shocking time”. He said there were no reports of Australians being killed or injured in the earthquake.

A powerful earthquake has also shaken Myanmar, killing at least four people and damaging 185 ancient Buddhist pagodas in the former capital of Bagan, a major tourist site.

The US Geological Survey said the magnitude 6.8 quake was centered about 25 kilometres west of Chauk, a town south of Bagan. It was located fairly far below the Earth’s surface at a depth of about 84 kilometres.

The vast site is the country’s premier attraction for tourists, who can view a panorama of temples stretching to the horizon flanked by the mighty Irrawaddy River, an especially impressive experience at sunset.

-AAP

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