At least 39 people have been killed and 150 others are missing after a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck central Italy.
The quake hit at 03:36 (01:36 GMT), 47 miles southeast of the city of Perugia, devastating dozens of mountain villages, levelling buildings and leaving blackouts near the epicentre, the BBC reports.
The mayor of the small town of Amatrice, which was badly affected by the quake, said residents were buried under debris and added the town ‘isn’t here any more’.
BREAKING: Mayor of quake-hit Amatrice in Italy says residents are buried under debris and that the town "isn't here anymore."
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 24, 2016
Close to the epicentre of the quake near the town of Norcia, witnesses told Italian media that numerous buildings had collapsed and that an increase in the death toll highly was likely.
The hardest-hit towns were reported as Amatrice, Accumoli and Norcia, with people running into the streets as aftershocks continued into the early morning. The tremors were reportedly so strong that residents of central Rome, some 90 miles away, were woken.
First images of damage show debris in the street and collapsed buildings in affected towns and villages.
Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor in Amatrice, reported extensive damage in the mountain village, which was packed with visitors at the peak of the summer season.
He told RAI state television:
Half the town is gone. There are people under the rubble … There’s been a landslide and a bridge might collapse.
Now that daylight has come, we see that the situation is even more dreadful than we feared with buildings collapsed, people trapped under the rubble and no sound of life.
The aim now is to save as many lives as possible. There are voices under the rubble, we have to save the people there.
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) August 24, 2016
Pirozzi added that access to the village had been blocked, making it difficult for rescue services to get through by road.
Our thoughts are with those affected by the earthquake.
*Death toll edited due to rising numbers.