This is an eyewitness report from the NowPublic member djbatman who was on the scene.
"State of emergency" in Italy after strong quake in L'Aquila
PM Silvio Berlusconi declared the "State of emergency" this morning, after last night's strong quake that hit the L'Aquila province, in Abruzzo (central Italy), according to Repubblica.it.
Berlusconi, who was also supposed to fly to Moscow today, cancelled his agenda to go to L'Aquila. The death toll is currently (9:28am local time, GMT+1) at 27. The L'Aquila hospital is damaged too and doctors are reported to cure injured people outside the entrance to the Pronto Soccorso (E.R.).
People have been extracted alive from the remains of collapsed buildings. Many small towns in the province have had casualties and heavy damages. The number of people that may have lost their houses could be up to 70,000 according to the Civil Protection. The small town of Onna is reported to be destroyed.
Update: Gioacchino Giuliani, a researcher at INFN (the National Institute for Nuclear Physics, situated under the Gran Sasso mountain, between L'Aquila and Teramo) had recently warned about the risk of a dangerous seismic event in L'Aquila, after the recent minor quakes in the same place. "There are some people that now need to apologize with me, and that will have on their consciences the weight of what happened", said Giuliani to Repubblica.it.
Update (12:24): The death toll is now at 40, but a journalist for local newspaper Il Centro, Vittorio Perfetto, who escaped his collapsing house with his entire family, said there are at least 50. He personally witnessed the tragedy of a family living in a house nearby. Three people were buried by the quake; only one of them was saved and just because some relatives were digging with their own hands to reach them.
PM Silvio Berlusconi is expected to be in L'Aquila at 1 PM for a press conference with Guido Bertolaso. At 2 pm, hot meals will be distributed by the Civil Protection to people gathering in the Fattori Stadium, in L'Aquila. Several people are reported dead or missing in the destroyed village of Onna (population 350).
A bridge that connects S.S.17 (state road) to Onna, over the Aterno river, collapsed while a car was crossing it. Apparently the car and the bridge ended in the river but no casualties are reported.
Update (1:53pm): Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi is checking the area affected by the quake in a helicopter. Among the severely damaged buildings there is also the Cathedral of L'Aquila, while some damages are reported in the Terme di Caracalla (Baths of Caracalla), the noted archaeological area, in Rome. 50% of the buildings in L'Aquila are damaged.
President Barack Obama sent a condolences message to the families hit by the quake.
Update (2:27pm): The Pescara hospital has created an area to act as emergency room for 150 people, since many people from L'Aquila are being taken here. Earlier, there were requuests to donate blood in Rome an in Abruzzo. Local news program TG3 though just informed that for now there is no need for more of that. Meanwhile, in L'Aquila, apparently 7 or 8 people are still feared dead under the remains of the Casa dello Studente (Student House). Death toll is now officially at 70.
Update (3:07pm): Silvio Berlusconi and Guido Bertolaso are having their press conference; region President Gianni Chiodi has spoken too and curently the major of L'Aquila is speaking. Berlusconi talked of the reopening of the highways between Rome and L'Aquila, and Rome and Pescara; according to the Autostrade SpA website (www.autostrade.it), the company who runs the highway system informs that actually the circulation is still not allowed to the heaviest vehcicles like trucks and buses on both highways (A24 and A25) and anyway people are invited not to travel to Abruzzo to allow rescuers to reach the affected area easily. 4000 hotel rooms on the coast (for 10000 people) have been now reserved to allocate homeless people from the L'Aquila area. There are enough blood supplies and no further need for more donations at the moment. Death toll has reached 92. While Berlusconi was speaking, another seismic event was perceived in L'Aquila, even by the people attending the press conference.
Update (3:39pm): Schools in the region will be closed indefinitely, at least until April 16th. Easter holidays were suppeed to start on the 8th, in the meantime checks will be performed on all school buildings in the area. Local authorities will issue ordinances related to the reopenings. 1.000 rescuers are currently operating in the L'Aquila area.
Update (4:17pm): During the Press Conference, Berlusconi said something about the non-predictability of earthquakes. To many, this sounded like wanting to protect Mr. Bertolaso from attacks by the media and the public opinion for not having listened to any eventual quake warnings through the "Seismic precursor" developed by INFN researcher Gioacchino Giuliani. Stefania Pezzopane - President of the Province of L'Aquila - pronounced words sounding like wanting not to be associated with the above. Pezzopane is reported having called the L'Aquila quake "an announced tragedy" and said that two months of alerts have gone ignored. The A24 higway will be reopened tomorrow, but only to cars, not heavier vehicles.
Update (4:25pm): Death toll for the L'Aquila quake has surpassed 100.
Update (midnight): Death toll reached 150; 100 people extracted alive from collapsed buildings. More than 70.000 homeless, some are being trasported on buses to Pescara and allocated in hotels on the coast.
The Hospital in L'Aquila, severely damaged, has been entirely evacuated. Rescue operations in the area hit by the quake were made difficult in the evening by the rain.
More minor seismic events recorded during all day in the L'Aquila area; scientists expect them to repeat for weeks.