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."
Renzi was planning on visiting the quake-ravaged towns today, pledging that no area or family would be left behind, according to The Guardian.
The U.S. State Department has been urging people to reach out to friends and family on social media:
Facebook also activated its "safety check" feature shortly after the earthquake, opening another avenue for people in the area to reconnect with loved ones.
How to help
Donations can be made to the Red Cross for Italy, found here.
How to stay safe
Earthquake safety and concerns are a natural part of life in Southern California. We have a list of suggestions from the U.S. Geological survey on how to prepare for an earthquake here.
Take Two discussed how to talk to children about natural disasters. You can find that story here. For more info on what to do when an earthquake strikes in a variety of areas (such as when you're out shopping), check out what we have here.
Check back for any updates to this story.