'I saw hell': Norcia 6.6 earthquake devastates historic churches & buildings (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
Sunday’s earthquake was the latest in a series of seismic events to strike central Italy, and comes just two months after another violent earthquake hit the same area of central and southern Italy, killing 300 people and destroying several towns.
There was widespread devastation, with many buildings, already compromised by earlier quakes, suffering severe damage.
Many of the town’s residents had been evacuated after quakes on Wednesday, meaning they avoided the worst of the damage. The Civil Protection agency reported several injuries but no fatalities.
Authorities say it’s the strongest quake to hit the country since the Irpinia earthquake which killed more than 2,500 people in southern Italy in November 1980, with reports that the tremors were felt in the capital Rome, and as far away as Venice in the north.
The Basilica of St Benedict had survived the August shock but the force of this quake proved too powerful, causing the church to collapse.
The Monks of Norcia, who cared for the church built atop St Benedict’s birthplace, issued a statement confirming the basilica’s destruction. The statement also reassured the public that the monks are all safe despite the devastation.
They also warned, however, that some buildings were on the brink of collapse.
The American monks brew their own beer and urged people to buy the beverage to help fund the recovery in the aftermath of the August quake.
Photos and videos have been released showing the monks and nuns standing in solidarity with locals turning to prayer after the disaster. Priests in the Umbria region have been told by Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti to hold masses outside for fear of building collapses, according to AP.
News of the basilica’s destruction has left many heartbroken.
The cathedral of Saint Maria Silver and the town hall are also reported to have been damaged according to Ansa.
San Francesco Church in Norcia also appears to have been devastated by the quake.
Meanwhile, the Basilica of St Paul in Rome has been closed for further inspection due to fallen rubble and cracks in the building from the shock.
Radio Vatican reports that Pope Francis prayed for the victims, “I pray for the wounded and the families that have suffered major damage; as well as for the personnel.”
Other small towns are also reeling from the shock. The Mayor of Arquata del Tronto Aleandro Petrucci said: “There are no towns left. Everything came down."
"This morning's quake has hit the few things that were left standing. We will have to start from scratch," Michele Franchi, the deputy mayor of Arquata del Tronto, told RAI TV.
The Mayor of Ussita, Marco Rinaldi said:“I slept in the car, I saw hell.”
The government revealed an initial allocation of €40 million to deal with the aftermath of the quake on top of the money committed to the August quake relief efforts, according to Ansa.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has pledged to rebuild all homes and churches destroyed in Sunday's quake, Reuters reported.
"We will rebuild everything, the houses, the churches and the businesses," Renzi said. "Everything that needs to be done to rebuild these areas will be done."