An earthquake and powerful aftershock shook central Italy on Wednesday, knocking out power, closing a major highway and sending panicked residents into the rain-drenched streets just two months after a powerful earthquake killed nearly 300 people.
Wednesday's first quake carried a magnitude of 5.4, but the aftershock was even stronger, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1 according to the German Research Centre for Geosciences. The U.S. Geological survey put the magnitude at 6.0 and said the epicenter was in Visso, where buildings crumbled into the street.
People screamed in the streets after the aftershock. "It was a very strong earthquake, apocalyptic," Ussita Mayor Marco Rinaldi told the ANSA news agency. "People are screaming on the street and now we are without lights."
But hours after the temblors hit, there were no reports of serious injuries or signs of people trapped in rubble, said the head of Italy's civil protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio. A handful of people were treated for slight injuries or anxiety at area hospitals in the most affected regions of Umbria and Le Marche, he said. A 73-year-old man died of a heart attack, possibly brought on by the quakes, local authorities told the ANSA news agency.
"We're without power, waiting for emergency crews," said Mauro Falcucci, the mayor of Castelsantangelo sul Nera, near the epicenter. Speaking to Sky TG24, he said: "We can't see anything. It's tough. Really tough."
He said some buildings had collapsed, but that there were no immediate reports of injuries in his community. He added that darkness and a downpour were impeding a full accounting.
Italy's national vulcanology center said the first quake struck at 7:10 p.m. local time with an epicenter in the Macerata area, near Perugia in the quake-prone Apennine Mountain chain. The U.S. Geological Survey put the epicenter near Visso and said it had a depth of some six miles.
The aftershock struck two hours later at 9:18 p.m. with a similar depth.
Experts say even relatively modest quakes that have shallow depths can cause significant damage because the seismic waves are closer to the surface. But seismologist Gianluca Valensise said a 10-kilometer depth is within the norm for an Apennine temblor.
The Aug. 24 quake destroyed the hilltop village of Amatrice and other nearby towns and had a depth of about 10 kilometers. Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi said residents felt Wednesday's aftershocks but `'We are thanking God that there are no dead and no injured."
Wednesday's temblors were felt from Perugia in Umbria to the capital Rome to the central Italian town of L'Aquila, which was struck by a deadly quake in 2009. The mayor of L'Aquila, however, said there were no immediate reports of damage there.
A section of a major state highway north of Rome, the Salaria, was closed near Arquata del Tronto as a precaution because of a quake-induced landslide, said a spokeswoman for the civil protection agency, Ornella De Luca.
The mayor of Arquata del Tronco, Aleandro Petrucci, said the aftershocks felt stronger than the August quake, which devastated parts of his town. But he said there were no reports of injuries to date and that the zone hardest hit by the last quake remained uninhabitable.
"We don't worry because there is no one in the red zone, if something fell, walls fell," he said.
In Rome, some 145 miles southwest from the epicenter, centuries-old palazzi shook and officials at the Foreign Ministry evacuated the building.
The quakes were actually aftershocks of the magnitude 6.2 earthquake from two months ago. Because they were so close to the surface, it has the potential to cause more shaking and more damage, "coupled with infrastructure that's vulnerable to shaking," said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle.
"They have a lot of old buildings that weren't constructed at a time with modern seismic codes," he said.
Given the size, depth and location of the quakes, the USGS estimates that about 12 million people likely felt at least weak shaking.
This original quake was about 12 miles northwest of the original shock, which puts it on the northern edge of the aftershock sequence and two months is normal for aftershocks, Earle said. The August 6.2 quake was five times bigger than Wednesday's and was 11 times stronger based on energy released.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.