Italy earthquake: More homes, churches destroyed

Saint Anthony church is seen partially collapsed following an earthquake along the road to Norcia (Reuters)
Saint Anthony church is seen partially collapsed following an earthquake along the road to Norcia (Reuters)

A powerful 6.6 magnitude earthquake has rocked central Italy, hitting the same regions affected by repeated tremors over the past two months.

It was stronger than the August 24 quake that killed almost 300 people, and was felt across much of Italy. No deaths have been reported, although the quake has caused widespread damage.

In the town of Norcia, near the epicentre, panicked residents rushed into the streets and the town's ancient Basilica of St. Benedict collapsed, leaving just the facade standing.

Nuns, monks and locals sank to their knees in the main square in silent prayer before the shattered church.

Italy's Civil Protection unit, which coordinates disaster relief, said numerous houses were destroyed on Sunday in the regions of Umbria and Marche, but either they were deserted at the time or most of the residents managed to escape beforehand.

Many people have fled the area since the deadly August quake, which has helped avoid further deaths this time.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Italy was living through extremely difficult times, but promised a massive reconstruction effort in the years ahead regardless of any possible objections from the European Union over the eventual costs.

"We will rebuild everything, the houses, the churches and the businesses," Renzi told reporters. "Everything that needs to be done to rebuild these areas will be done."

Experts said Sunday's quake was the strongest here since a 6.9 quake in Italy's south in 1980, which killed 2735 people.

A number of other churches were also ruined on Sunday, Italian media has reported, including Norcia's 16th century Cathedrale di Santa Maria, while the town hall bell tower has deep cracks running through its walls.

The earthquake was also felt strongly in Italy's capital, Rome, where transport authorities shut down the metro system for precautionary checks. Authorities also toured the city's main Roman Catholic basilicas looking for possible damage.

Italy sits on two geological fault lines, making it one of the most seismically active countries in Europe.