A powerful 6.2 magnitude earthquake destroyed several historic towns in central Italy Wednesday, killing dozens of people.
The earthquake hit about 85 miles east of Rome early Wednesday, "razing homes and buckling roads," Reuters says. Photos show areas of Amatrice – voted as one of Italy's most beautiful historic towns – were flattened.
"Half the town no longer exists," Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, told ANSA.it Chronicle. Rescue teams are digging through the rubble "hoping that most people were alive."
Along with Amatrice, the towns of Accumoli, Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto are being reported as the most heavily damaged, the New York Times says.
'Significant casualties are likely'
The 6.2-magnitude quake rocked Italy around 3:36 a.m. local time, and over the next few hours several more quakes – including a 5.5-magnitude quake – hit the region, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says.
The USGS reports about 13,000 people live in an area that felt a "severe" amount of shaking, and the region is under an "orange level" alert, which means "significant casualties are likely."
Italy’s Civil Protection agency has described the earthquake as "severe," TIME reports. The agency's first priority is to save the lives of those who are trapped under the rubble, a news release says.
The United States Embassy in Italy is asking Americans to let their loved ones know they're safe or post on social media.
This region of Italy has felt an quake this strong before. In April 2009, a 6.3-magnitude quake hit about 28 miles southeast of Wednesdays quake, killing 295 people, injuring more than 1,000 and leaving 55,000 homeless, the USGS says.
That quake also caused "significant landsliding" and aftershocks of 5-magnitude of larger.
Powerful earthquake reported in Burma
The epicenter of the quake was far below the earth's surface – deep earthquakes usually cause less surface damage, the news station reports, which is why the U.S. Geological Survey thinks the impact of the quake will be localized, although some casualties and damage are possible.
The State Department is also asking U.S. citizens in Burma to contact relatives to let them know you're OK.
More photos from Italy
Twitter Moments has several before-and-after photos of Italy following Wednesday's earthquake. Click here to see them.