Early Wednesday morning, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck central Italy at 3:36 local time. The epicenter (or place where the earthquake was strongest) was at the historic town of Amatrice, which is about 140 km (87 miles) from the capital city of Rome. Many surrounding towns were also affected, including Pescara del Tronto and Arquata del Tronto. Currently, 73 people are confirmed to have died, with most of them (53) in Amatrice. The town's population is only about 2,000 people.
Dating back to the Middle Ages
The affected villages had buildings that dated back to the Middle Ages (the 1400s and earlier), and this means that the structure were quite fragile. Digging through such a large amount of rubble will take time, but it's also a race against time. Rescuers are using both dogs and cranes to search as carefully and quickly as possible to save trapped people who are still alive.
Statements of sympathy and support poured in from all over Italy and Europe. The Pope led prayers this morning for those affected, saying "I also express my condolences to those who have lost loved ones, and my spiritual support to those who are anxious and afraid." German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "Given the suffering and massive destruction I would like to express my deepest sympathy on behalf of the German population."
Popular with tourists
Amatrice and the towns near it do not have large populations, but they are very popular with tourists in the summer. The mountainous area is full of beautiful areas that are perfect for activities like cycling and hiking. Unfortunately this fact means that there were more than just residents in the areas hit by the earthquake. Plenty of tourists were there, too.
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Amatrice itself is the home of the Festival of the Spaghetti all'Amatriciana, which celebrates their world-famous take on pasta. The festival was to happen this coming weekend and would have celebrated its 50th anniversary. An Amatriciana sauce is made with tomatoes, pork cheek, olive oil, white wine, chilis, and pecorino cheese. Regional dishes are very common throughout Italy, with many dishes that are familiar to North Americans bearing the name of the town that created them (a Bolognese meat sauce came from Bologna, Neapolitan pizza came from Naples, and so on).
Everyone involved — from everyday citizens to volunteers from the Red Cross — knows that the first thing to do is to find survivors. Hospital camps have already been erected and people are being saved and cared for. Meanwhile, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi looked to give strength to his fellow citizens. "We are not going to leave any family alone from any district," he stated to all Italians. "In difficult times, Italy knows what to do.”