At least six killed as quake brings down buildings in central Italy

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A strong quake rocks Italy, flattening towns and killing scores of people.

Police near the town of Ascoli said they could hear cries for help from under the rubble but lacked the heavy equipment to move the rocks, according the RAI radio.

In Accumoli, one witness told ANSA that fire and police teams looking for a young couple and two children in a pile of rubble were alternating earth-moving equipment with individuals using bare hands.

Aerial photographs showed whole areas of Amatrice, voted a year ago as one of Italy's most lovely historic towns, flattened by the 6.2 magnitude quake.

RAI reported that two Afghan girls, believed to be asylum-seekers, were also missing in the town.

Accumoli's mayor, Stefano Petrucci, said some 2,500 people were left homeless in the local community of 17 hamlets.

"We came out to the piazza, and it looked like Dante's Inferno", said Agostino Severo, a Rome resident visiting Illica.

Many parts of Italy - including the central region hit by Wednesday's quake - lie on a major seismic fault line. "Telecommunications is very hard because numerous power and capability within the region are down", she says.

The European Mediterranean Seismological Center and the U.S. Geological Survey reported the main quake had a magnitude at 6.2, strong enough to wake residents in Rome some 105 miles to the south.

Shallow quakes generally tend to be more damaging than deeper quakes.

"The wound caused by the L'Aquila natural disaster is still fresh, and we fear being forgotten", he told Italy's state-run ANSA news agency.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, who is heading to the zone later Wednesday, says the immediate priority is to rescue any survivors.

In brief remarks, Renzi thanked rescue workers who dug through debris to reach residents crushed by their homes.

"We're going to be, I'm sure, examining this for many days and months to come", Nadeau said, "to find out whether or not anyone in this neighborhood, not far from that devastated area, actually learned a lesson from the 2009 natural disaster".

Rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets of the city center and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as more than 40 aftershocks jolted the region into the early morning hours, some as strong as 5.1.

US President Barack Obama in a phone call with Italian President Sergio Mattarella said the United States is prepared to provide any aid necessary in the aftermath of the 6.2 magnitude quake, the White House said in a press release on Wednesday. The devastated area is just north of L'Aquila, the city where some 300 people died in another quake in 2009.

Stanglin reported from McLean, Va.; Contributing: Charles Ventura from Los Angeles, Steph Solis and Jessica Durando from McLean.

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