The death toll in Italy's Marche region has soared - the area having been packed with summer vacationers. Hundreds of aftershocks have been felt in the hours since the quake struck, including one that registered 5.5.
As the death toll climbs from a devastating earthquake across central Italy, rescuers are racing to find survivors buried under mountains of rubble.
The death toll is now at 247, but it is almost certain to rise across the severely damaged regions of Lazio and Marche, where local populations had swelled for the summer holidays.
Pescara del Tronto, a hamlet near Arquata in the Marche region, was among the hardest hit villages - the bodies of the dead were laid out in a children's play park.
Nearby Amatrice was also hard hit, according to village Mayor Sergio Pirozzi.
"Three-quarters of the town is not there anymore," Pirozzi said. "The aim now is to save as many lives as possible. There are voices under the rubble; we have to save the people there."
In neighboring Accumoli a family of four, including two boys aged 8 months and 9 years, were buried when their house collapsed.
As the infant's body was carried away, the child's grandmother blamed God: "He took them all at once," she wailed.
Temporary campsites are being set up as authorities try to find emergency housing for more than 2,000 people left homeless.
Aftershocks keep region on edge
There have been some 250 aftershocks since the quake struck, with the strongest measuring 5.5. Fears of additional building collapses mean it is unsafe for residents to go back into their homes.
Neighboring Umbria was also hit hard, but less so.
"It was so strong. It seemed the bed was walking across the room by itself with us on it," said Lina Mercantini of Ceselli, Umbria, about 75 km (47 miles) away from the epicenter.
The region is sprinkled with centuries-old buildings that are especially vulnerable to collapse during earthquakes.
"I was blown away by what I saw. We haven't stopped digging all day," said Marcello di Marco, a 34-year-old farmer who traveled from the town of Narni some 100 km away to help with the rescue effort in the hamlet of Pescara del Tronto.
The quake had struck during the overnight hours when most people were still sleeping. Some never made it out of their beds, while the quake razed homes and buckled roads across several communities about 140 km east of Rome.
The earthquake, which registered between 6.0 and 6.2, was strong enough to be felt in Bologna to the north and Naples to the south, each more than 220 km from the epicenter.
Guido Bordo, 69, lost his sister and her husband after they were trapped inside their holiday house in the hamlet of Illica, near Accumoli.
"There's no sound from them," he said. "We only heard their cats."
bik/jil/jbh (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)