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A photo taken on October 28, 2016 shows a damaged car in the “red zone”, an area cordoned off for safety reasons, in Camerino, where 80 per cent of the houses have been left uninhabitable after two earthquakes hit the region. ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP

Head of the National Civil Protection Agency Fabrizio Cursio told reporters that the agency had yet to confirm any fatalities after a tremor that was felt from Rome to Venice struck at 7:40 am (0640 GMT).

“We are checking. There are several people injured. But for the moment, we have had no reports of victims,” he told a press conference in the city of Rieti.

Basilica of Saint Benedict reduced to rubble

But the 14th-century Basilica of Saint Benedict in the Umbrian mountain town of Norcia was reduced to a pile of rubble. The Basilica was said to have been the birthplace of the Catholic saint.
The church is looked after by an international community of Benedictine monks based in a local monastery. It attracts some 50,000 pilgrims every year.

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Shortly after the quake struck, some visibly angry monks knelt in prayer before the ruins.

The epicentre was located at a depth of six kilometres (3.5 miles) north of the small town of Norcia. That is according to the US Geological Survey, which measured the earthquake’s magnitude at 6.6.

Italy’s institute of geology and vulcanology (IGNV) measured the quake at 6.5. And it said it had been preceded by a 6.1 magnitude shock an hour earlier.

Three earthquakes in ten weeks rock Italy

It came four days after quakes of 5.5 and 6.1 magnitude hit the same area. Also, nine weeks after nearly 300 people died in an August 24 quake that devastated the tourist town of Amatrice at the peak of the holiday season.

The 13th-century civic tower in Amatrice, which was damaged but left standing by the August quake, collapsed on Sunday.

‘Everything collapsed’

The impact was mitigated by the fact that any buildings deemed vulnerable to seismic activity had been evacuated.

“Everything collapsed. I can see columns of smoke, it’s a disaster, a disaster,” Marco Rinaldi, the mayor of Ussita, one of the pretty mountain villages hit hardest by the last quake, told journalists.

“I was sleeping in my car, I saw hell break out,” he said.

Italy’s civil protection department said there were “checks underway in all the towns affected by this morning’s quake. It is aimed at determining whether there has been any damage to people or buildings.”

The underground rail network in Rome, 120 kilometres from the epicentre, was closed for structural safety checks.