A powerful tremor brought down numerous buildings across Italy only days after a series of quakes in the same area. The people are "starting to despair," according to officials.
The Sunday quake struck the mountanous region of Umbria with a magnitude of 6.6, making it the most powerful seizmic event in Italy in over three-and-a-half decades.
It was followed by a 4.6 aftershock several hours later. At least 20 people were injured and up to 100,000 thousand are feared to be homeless.
Despite widespread devastation, no deaths were immediately reported.
"Dozens of people were lightly injured, except one person who is reported to be in more serious condition," Italy's Civil Protection chief Fabrizio Curcio said at a press conference.
Geologists say the latest tremor originated some 130 kilometers (82 miles) northeast of Rome. The same area was hit by a series of less powerful quakes on Wednesday, allegedly linked to the deadly seismic event that killed around 300 in August.
The latest quake knocked down the ancient St. Benedict cathedral in the town of Norcia, only 6 kilometers (less than 4 miles) from the epicenter.
"It was like a bomb went off," the town's deputy mayor, Pierluigi Altavilla told Rai News 24. "We are starting to despair. There are too many quakes now, we can't bear it anymore."
Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Italy would "rebuild everything: houses, churches and businesses."
"We will use whatever is necessary to rebuild," Renzi added.
Many residents of the troubled region were sleeping in their cars or shelters after the series of tremors earlier this week.
"Everything collapsed. I can see columns of smoke, it's a disaster, a disaster," said Marco Rinaldi, the mayor of the village of Ussita, which also suffered severe destruction on Wednesday.
"I was sleeping in my car, I saw hell break out," he was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying.
Rome metro off-limits
The vibrations forced people out of their beds in Rome, where the city's subway system was closed and experts were checking historic buildings for damage. Also, the quake brought down a damaged church tower in Amatrice, the tourist town that bore the brunt of destruction in August. Numerous other buildings were also destroyed, according to Italian officials.
At 6.6 degrees of moment magnitude scale, the Sunday quake released more energy than the deadly quake two months ago that reached magnitude of 6.1 and buried hundreds in rubble. The previous earthquakes, however, prompted the authorities to move the population out of vulnerable buildings.
The Sunday event was Italy's strongest earthquake since a 6.9 tremor claimed around 3,000 lives in 1980.
dj,dm/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)