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Earthquake hits Italian island of Ischia, causing death and destruction

At least two people have died after a 4.0 magnitude earthquake hit the island of Ischia off the coast of Naples. Firefighters have freed two trapped children and a 7-month-old baby in a "miracle" rescue.

Watch video 00:36

Earthquake hits Italian resort island

Firefighters on the island of Ischia managed to free three children on Tuesday who were trapped under rubble for hours after their house collapsed during last night's earthquake. 

The earthquake struck the Italian resort island shortly before 9 p.m. local time (1900 UTC) on Monday. Casamicciola, on the northern part of the island, was the hardest-hit area, according to local reports.

By Tuesday afternoon, firefighters recovered an 11-year-old boy alive almost 16 hours after the quake struck. They saved his 7-year-old and 7-month-old brothers a few hours before in what the national fire department called it a "miracle" rescue.

Rescue workers carry a child after an earthquake hit the island of Ischia (Reuters/C. De Luca)

Rescuers managed to free all three children after they'd been trapped for hours under rubble

Residents and tourists were forced to run out on to the streets, as at least six buildings and a church collapsed around them during the quake. Two people were killed and at least 39 were reportedly injured.

"Italy is united in the grief for the victims and in solidarity. We are all standing next to those committed to rescue efforts," Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni wrote on Twitter.

Watch video 02:20

Quake wounds still weep in Amatrice

According to Italian media, an elderly woman was killed after she was hit by a falling piece of masonry from the church. The injured were receiving treatment outside as most of the local hospital had to be evacuated due to an electrical blackout, Roberto Allocca, a doctor from a local hospital, told broadcaster Sky TG24.

Civil protection crews were already on the island to combat forest fires, which have ravaged large parts of southern Italy throughout the summer. Helicopters and ferries were bringing in more rescue workers from the mainland.

Ischia bridge

Ischia is the largest island in the bay of Naples and welcomes up to six million tourists each year - mainly from the Italian mainland and from Germany.

Ischia, along with the nearby island of Capri, is a favorite vacation destination for Europe's jet set. The resort island is particularly famous for its thermal waters. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has often been seen spending her Easter holidays on the island.

The quake hit just days before the first anniversary of the 6.2 magnitude earthquake that hit central Italy, killing some 300 people. Just hours before Monday's quake, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni promised to boost funding efforts in the central region.

Magnitude disputed

While Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology put the magnitude at 4.0, both the US Geological Survey (USGS) and European quake agency EMSC estimated the magnitude to be around 4.3.

Italy's national vulcanology department initially gave a preliminary magnitude of 3.6. While such variances are common, a handful of Italian agencies are reportedly claiming that the initial low rating underestimated the power of the tremor, leaving rescue services late in organizing their response in the aftermath of the quake.

Egidio Grasso, the head of a regional association of geologists, publicly questioned in a statement how a relatively minor seismic event could be so destructive. "It is not normal for it to cause building collapses and hospital evacuations," he said, adding that the level of destruction may have been all the more severe due to local geological factors or shoddy constructions "built without any earthquake proofing."

rs, dm/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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