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Italy earthquake: How to find loved ones and how to help

Residents stand among damaged buildings after a strong earthquake hit Amatrice on Wednesday. Central Italy was struck by a powerful, magnitude 6.2 earthquake in the early morning. Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

A powerful earthquake shook central Italy overnight, killing at least 120 people, according to Italy's prime minister Matteo Renzi, and destroying large swaths of several towns.

Victims are still being pulled from the rubble, and the full extent of the devastation is not yet clear.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the quake, which was centered about 100 miles northeast of Rome, had a magnitude of 6.2 and was shallow — at a depth of just over 6 miles.

Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto, in the Apennine Mountains, are among the hardest-hit towns. They're small in size but popular as tourist destinations — and August is a prime time for vacations in the area.

The way the buildings tucked in these mountainous villages are constructed played a big factor in the volume of destruction they experienced, USGS seismologist Susan Hough told KPCC. 

“They’re wonderful places to visit but they’re very vulnerable to earthquake damage," she said. "We’ve seen this before, when these moderately large earthquakes hit beneath a village you can get a huge amount of damage even though the earthquake isn’t very big.” 

"A lot of the officials are lamenting that these are tiny towns but their populations swell in the summer, specifically because they are very sought-after vacation getaways," Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield told NPR.

NPR reports the earthquake struck just after 3:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday morning. Amatrice is one of the worst-hit towns, with the mayor saying that half the town "doesn't exist" anymore, with all roads to and from the town cut off.

Reports collected by the USGS show that the impact of the quake was felt from coast to coast in central Italy, and as far north as Bologna and as far south as Naples.

Emma Tucker, the deputy editor of The Times of London, was one of the thousands of people on vacation in the region struck by the earthquake.

She was staying at a farmhouse just over 50 miles from the epicenter of the quake, and woke up to "very intense" shaking.

"The thing that I keep remembering was this terrible noise. ... It sounded like a train was heading towards the house and was going to run over it, sort of a thunderous clanking noise," she tells NPR. "I'm told this was short [for an earthquake], it was 20 seconds, but they felt very, very long, those 20 seconds."

​Finding survivors

How to help

How to stay safe

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