A powerful earthquake that rocked the mountainous region of central Italy and shook much of the nation Sunday was centered in the same area rattled by a deadly quake in August and intense aftershocks last week.
Sunday's earthquake, the country's strongest in decades, toppled buildings in ancient towns, sent earthquake weary residents into a panic and forced precautionary closure of Rome's subway system more than 100 miles away.
The magnitude 6.6 quake struck at about 7:40 a.m. local time (2:40 a.m. ET) and was centered in Norcia, a town of 5,000 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Norcia is only about 35 miles from Amatrice, a town devastated by a quake two months ago that killed nearly 300 people.
The area was also hit last week by two strong aftershocks, including one measuring 6.1, that left thousands homeless.
Early reports after Sunday's temblor indicated about 20 people suffered injuries,none life-threatening, said Fabrizio Curcio, head of Italy’s civil protection agency.
"It was like an explosion that never ended," Pietro Luigi Altavilla, deputy mayor of Norcia, told Italy's ANSA news agency.
"The old town was evacuated. I do not know when it will be possible to put it back together."He said
The earthquake was more powerful than the magnitude-6.2 quake that struck Italy in August, destroying parts of Amatrice and other historic towns. Many people in the region, located along a fault line, have fled to coastal towns or have been sleeping in cars or temporary shelters, afraid their homes could collapse in the night amid the continuing seismic activity.
In Norcia, unconfirmed reports in Italian media said at least nine people were pulled alive from the rubble. Buildings were damaged and emergency workers were continuing to check for casualties.
The U.S. Geological Survey said Sunday's quake was at a depth of less than a mile.
A distance that is considered extremely shallow and might mean the destruction could be relatively limited.
"We are trying to learn if people are under the rubble," said Cesare Spuri, the regional head of civil protection. Later, a relieved Curcio said there was no indication anyone remained missing.