A rock shaken down in a quake lies on a road in Visso, Italy, Oct. 27, 2016. Two powerful earthquakes hit central Italy late Wednesday, bringing down buildings and wreaking havoc in local areas just two months after another major quake killed 298 people. (Xinhua/Stringer)
by Alessandra Cardone
ROME, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) -- Two powerful earthquakes hit central Italy late Wednesday, bringing down buildings and wreaking havoc on local areas just two months after another major quake had killed 298 people.
A first 5.4-magnitude tremor hit at 7:11 p.m. (1711 GMT), according to Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV). A second 5.9-magnitude quake struck the same area at 9:18 p.m. (1918 GMT).
The epicenter of both events was registered between the provinces of Macerata and Ascoli Piceno in the Marche region, and the province of Perugia in the nearby Umbria region, in central Italy, the INGV added.
It was at a relatively shallow depth of about 9 km, and the nearest urban areas were the villages of Castelsantangelo sul Nera, Visso, Ussita, and Preci.
No victims were reported up to the early hours on Thursday, and only one person was injured in the village of Visso, according to Fabrizio Curcio, head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency.
"The situation is less dramatic than expected," Curcio told a press conference late Wednesday.
"There seems to be no reason for grave concern so far. There are no people reported as being trapped under rubble," he added.
However, the official warned a full assessment of the situation was hampered by heavy rain and a lack of electricity.
In the disastrous area, communications and power lines have been down for several hours, and a major highway connecting Rome to the affected areas was closed. Rescue teams were quick to reach all quake-hit towns and villages, but they had to work through the night in difficult conditions.
In Ussita, Mayor Marco Rinaldi told local media that many buildings have collapsed, including the facade of the church, and several aftershocks were felt during the night.
"It was the strongest event I felt in my life, something terrible," he told Sky TG24 television channel.
Residents in all the affected centers spent the night in their cars or makeshift camps for fear of further tremors.
Significant damage were reported in the medieval towns of Norcia, in Perugia province, and of Camerino, in Macerata province, where the bell tower collapsed on a building.
Both quakes were clearly felt all across central Italy, but also in the capital Rome some 230 km west to the epicenter, and in northeast Veneto region, the INGV said.
The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquartered in Rome was temporarily evacuated.
The new tremors were linked to the major quake that struck central Lazio and Marche regions in late August, according to an INGV expert.
"These two events are counterparts of that major quake," INGV senior scientist Gianluca Valensise told Xinhua.
"Both tremors were very similar to the one in August, and this would show the seismic activity is proceeding toward north, north-west," the seismologist explained.
New fault lines along the Apennines mountains, which constitute Italy's mountainous central "spine," might have be involved in this latest seismic activity, Valensise said.
The previous 6.0-magnitude earthquake hit central Italy in the night of Aug. 24, killing 298 people. Some other 400 people were injured and several thousands displaced.