Four Israelis Missing After 6.5-Strong Quake Hits Central Italy


italy-quakeAt least 50 people were killed, dozens injured and thousands left homeless by a strong earthquake that hit a large swathe of central Italy today. Four Israelis in the area of the quake were still missing by afternoon, hours after the early dawn disaster. Three of the missing were identified as students studying in the city L’Aquila, near the epicenter of the quake. The Israeli embassy in Rome has been in contact with their families as well as local authorities to determine whether any nationals were injured in the quake.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called his Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, and offered to help in any way possible.Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi canceled a trip to Moscow and said he had declared a national emergency, which would free up funds for aid and rebuilding.

Officials said the death toll was likely to rise as rescue crews made their way through the debris. Many people were reportedly trapped underneath the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Firefighters aided by dogs were trying to rescue people from crumbled homes, including a student dormitory where half a dozen students remained trapped, RAI state TV reported.

At least five children were included in the death toll, with some 30 people unaccounted for, the ANSA news agency reported, citing the Civil Protection Department. The town of Castelnuovo appeared particularly hard hit, many of the dead reported there.

“It’s the worst tragedy since the start of the millennium,” said Guido Bertolaso, the head of the Civil Protection Department.

The last major quake to hit central Italy was a 5.4-magnitude temblor that struck the south-central Molise region on October 31, 2002, killing 28 people, including 27 children who died when their school collapsed.

{News Agencies/ Newscenter/Yair Alpert}