UPDATE :Italy Earthquake: Death Toll Passes 240, As Rescue Efforts Continue

The death toll in the Italian earthquake stands at 241 as thousands of rescuers continue efforts to find survivors.

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Dozens are believed trapped in ruined Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto, in mountainous central Italy.

Rescuers have advised journalists and bystanders to leave Amatrice urgently, as “the town is crumbling”, the BBC’s Jenny Hill says.
New cracks appeared in the town’s hospital after strong aftershocks.

Officials revised down the number of dead after earlier giving a figure of 247.

The search for survivors went on through the night, amid hundreds of tremors and an aftershock which rocked already damaged buildings.

More than 4,300 rescuers are using heavy lifting equipment and their bare hands.

Many of the victims were children, the health minister said, and there were warnings the toll could rise further.

The heaviest death toll was in Amatrice – 184, officials said. Another 46 died in Arquata, and 11 in Accumoli.

The 6.2-magnitude quake hit at 03:36 (01:36 GMT) on Wednesday 100km (65 miles) north-east of Rome.

Some aftershocks were felt as far away as Rome.

“We are sleeping in the car and there were shocks all night. When the biggest one came, the car started moving and shaking,” said Monica, a survivor from Amatrice.

At the scene: BBC’s Damian Grammaticas in Pescara del Tronto

Two firemen burrowed deep into the rubble looking for a survivor. “It’s a dog,” one of them shouted out.

For half an hour the men kept digging. They passed water down to be given to the animal. And eventually they worked it free, then emerged, carrying it to the surface. There was a ripple of congratulations through the crowd.

“It doesn’t matter to us if it’s a person or an animal, we save it,” said Gianni Macerata, the fire officer in charge.

So the digging goes on. But so little is left of Pescara del Tronto it is unlikely that more survivors will be found here.

It seems unlikely too that this ancient little place, that has stood for centuries, can ever be rebuilt. Hundreds of years of history ended in an instant.

A tented camp has been set up, as so many buildings are now unsafe.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was chairing an emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday. The agenda included reconstruction plans for the devastated area.

Grief and anger in Italian press

Rescuers said they had pulled five bodies from the ruins of the Hotel Roma in Amatrice. As many as 70 tourists were staying at the hotel when the quake struck. Many are feared to be in the rubble, though several were pulled out and given medical care.

Many of those affected were Italians on holiday in the region. Some were in Amatrice for a festival to celebrate a famous local speciality – amatriciana bacon and tomato sauce.

Late on Wednesday there were cheers in the village of Pescara del Tronto when a young girl was pulled alive from the rubble after being trapped for 17 hours. Almost all the houses there had collapsed, the mayor said.

Among the victims was an 18-month-old toddler, Marisol Piermarini, whose mother Martina Turco survived the deadly 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila and moved away from there after the experience, Italian news agency Ansa reported.

Ms Turco was being treated in hospital after being pulled from the rubble in the village of Arquata del Tronto, Ansa said.

he mayor of Amatrice said three-quarters of the town had been destroyed and no building was safe for habitation.

The country is no stranger to earthquakes: the 2009 L’Aquila tremor killed more than 300 people and in May 2012 two tremors nine days apart killed more than 20 people in the northern Emilia Romagna region.

Alert Heightened For Vanuatu Volcano

Vanuatu authorities have upgraded warnings around Ambae Volcano in northern Vanuatu.

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The country’s Geohazards Observatory has raised the alert to Level two on a scale of one to five which signifies the volcano is in a stage of major unrest.

The observatory says volcanic activity could increase at any time over the next few days.

It’s warned the local community, tourists and travel agencies to stay well away from the Manaro crater lakes to avoid the effects of volcanic gas, ash and other volcanic activity.

The Department of Meteorology and Geohazards is closely monitoring the volcano which last erupted in 2009.

UPDATE :Strong Earthquake Shakes Italian Towns

AMATRICE, Italy — A strong earthquake in central Italy reduced three towns to rubble as people slept early Wednesday, with reports that as many as 50 people were killed and hundreds injured as rescue crews raced to dig out survivors.

Italy-Quake

The toll was likely to rise as crews reached homes in more remote hamlets where the scenes were apocalyptic “like Dante’s Inferno,” according to one witness.

“The town isn’t here anymore,” said Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice. “I believe the toll will rise.”

The magnitude 6 quake struck at 3:36 a.m. (0136 GMT) and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome, where residents felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. The temblor shook the Lazio region and Umbria and Le Marche on the Adriatic coast.

Premier Matteo Renzi planned to head to the zone later Wednesday and promised: “No family, no city, no hamlet will be left behind.”

The hardest-hit towns were Amatrice and Accumoli near Rieti, some 100 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Rome, and Pescara del Tronto some 25 kilometers further east. Italy’s civil protection agency said the preliminary toll was 38 dead, several hundred injured and thousands in need of temporary housing, though it stressed the numbers were fluid.

The ANSA news agency said 35 of the dead were in Amatrice alone, with another 17 dead in the province of Ascoli Piceno, which includes Pescara del Tronto, for a reported total topping 50.

The center of Amatrice was devastated, with entire buildings razed and the air thick with dust and smelling strongly of gas. Amatrice, birthplace of the famed spaghetti all’amatriciana bacon-tomato pasta sauce, is made up of 69 hamlets that rescue teams were working to reach.

Rocks and metal tumbled onto the streets of the city center and dazed residents huddled in piazzas as more than 40 aftershocks jolted the region into the early morning hours, some as strong as 5.1.

“The whole ceiling fell but did not hit me,” marveled resident Maria Gianni. “I just managed to put a pillow on my head and I wasn’t hit luckily, just slightly injured my leg.”

Another woman, sitting in front of her destroyed home with a blanket over her shoulders, said she didn’t know what had become of her loved ones.

“It was one of the most beautiful towns of Italy and now there’s nothing left,” she said, too distraught to give her name. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”

As daylight dawned, residents, civil protection workers and even priests began digging out with shovels, bulldozers and their bare hands, trying to reach survivors. There was relief as a woman was pulled out alive from one building, followed by a dog.

“We need chain saws, shears to cut iron bars, and jacks to remove beams: everything, we need everything,” civil protection worker Andrea Gentili told The Associated Press. Italy’s national blood drive association appealed for donations to Rieti’s hospital.

But just a few kilometers to the north, in Illica, the response was slower as residents anxiously waited for loved ones to be extracted from the rubble.

“We came out to the piazza, and it looked like Dante’s Inferno,” said Agostino Severo, a Rome resident visiting Illica. “People crying for help, help. Rescue workers arrived after one hour… one and a half hours.”

The devastation harked back to the 2009 quake that killed more than 300 people in and around L’Aquila, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of the latest quake. The town sent emergency teams Wednesday to help with the rescue.

“I don’t know what to say. We are living this immense tragedy,” said a tearful Rev. Savino D’Amelio, a parish priest in Amatrice. “We are only hoping there will be the least number of victims possible and that we all have the courage to move on.”

Another hard-hit town was Pescara del Tronto, in the Le Marche region, where the main road was covered in debris. The ANSA news agency reported 10 dead there without citing the source, but there was no confirmation.

Residents were digging their neighbors out by hand since emergency crews hadn’t yet arrived in force. Photos taken from the air by regional firefighters showed the town essentially flattened; Italy requested EU satellite images of the whole area to get the scope of the damage.

“There are broken liquor bottles all over the place,” lamented Gino Petrucci, owner of a bar in nearby Arquata Del Tronto where he was beginning the long cleanup.

The Italian geological service put the magnitude at 6.0; the U.S. Geological Survey reported 6.2 with the epicenter at Norcia, about 170 kilometers (105 miles) northeast of Rome, and with a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles).

“Quakes with this magnitude at this depth in our territory in general create building collapses, which can result in deaths,” said the head of Italy’s civil protection service, Fabrizio Curcio. He added that the region is popular with tourists escaping the heat of Rome, with more residents than at other times of the year, and that a single building collapse could raise the toll significantly.

The mayor of Accumoli, Stefano Petrucci, said six people had died there, including a family of four, and two others. He wept as he noted that the tiny hamlet of 700 swells to 2,000 in the summer months, and that he feared for the future of the town.

“I hope they don’t forget us,” he told Sky TG24.

In Amatrice, the Rev. Fabio Gammarota, priest of a nearby parish, said he had blessed seven bodies extracted so far. “One was a friend of mine,” he said.

The mayor, Pirozzi, estimated dozens of residents were buried under collapsed buildings and that heavy equipment was needed to clear streets clogged with debris.

A 1997 quake killed a dozen people in central Italy and severely damaged one of the jewels of Umbria, the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, filled with Giotto frescoes. The Franciscan friars who are the custodians of the basilica reported no immediate damage from Wednesday’s temblor.

Pope Francis skipped his traditional catechism for his Wednesday general audience and instead invited pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square to recite the rosary with him.

Powerful Quake Rocks Myanmar, Killing At Least 4

A powerful magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck central Myanmar on Wednesday, killing at least four people and damaging buildings and ancient monuments, authorities said.

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Myanmar

The quake’s epicenter was located in an area west of the ancient capital Bagan and took place about 52 miles below the Earth’s surface, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Deep quakes typically cause less damage than shallow ones.

The quake came on the same day that another measuring magnitude-6.2 struck central Italy, killing more than 100 people.

Tremors from the Myanmar quake were felt as far away as India and Thailand.

Bagan is home to 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries, and at least 185 brick pagodas were damaged, the state newspaper reported

A fire department official from regional capital Magwe told Reuters that two young girls were killed when a riverbank gave way in Yenanchaung township. Another person died when a tobacco processing factory collapsed in the town of Pakkoku, officials told the news agency.

“My house shook during the quake. Many people were scared and they ran out of the buildings,” Maung Maung Kyaw, a local official of the ruling National League for Democracy, told Reuters. “Some of the old buildings have cracks. The biggest damage is to the bank building in the town. The damage to other buildings isn’t that significant.”

6.2-Magnitude Earthquake Hits Central Italy, At Least 14 Dead

A strong earthquake struck central Italy early Wednesday, leaving people trapped beneath the rubble and terrified residents huddled outside, surrounded by collapsed buildings.

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At least 14 people died following the 6.2-magnitude earthquake, according to CNN affiliate RAI.

The earthquake hit 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) southeast of Norcia at 3:36 a.m., the United States Geological Survey said. Its tremors rattled Rome about 100 miles away.

‘The town is no more’

In Amatrice, buildings collapsed and the mountainous town was left in ruins.

“The town is no more,” Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told the affiliate. “I have an appeal to make: we have access roads to the town cut off and people under the rubble, help us.”

He said there was no power, and it was crucial for rescue crews to get to the town.

“We don’t have any more light (electricity) and it is urgent to clear the access roads,” he said.

Waiting for daylight

Charlotte Smith, coach of Elon University women’s basketball team in North Carolina, was in Rome with her players when the quake hit.

“It lasted for at least 30 seconds. The entire hotel was shaking,” she said. “I went down to the lobby and there were a lot of people waiting there. … Then an earthquake happened 30 minutes later.”

She said their flight is still on schedule to leave for the United States later Wednesday.

Michael Gilroy was on the second floor of a three-story building in Montepulciano when the earthquake hit. It sent them fleeing into the night

“It felt like the bed was on rollers,” he said.

“It was initially very confusing. I’m from California and had a sense of what it may be. And we ran out to the main area and the chandelier was swaying back and forth. At that point, we knew we had to get out of the building as fast as we can.”

Gilroy, his girlfriend and other hotel guests waited outside in a clear area.

“We’re going to wait for daylight and see what happens from there,” he said.

Aftershock

About an hour after the earthquake, a 5.5-magnitude aftershock hit near Norcia, one of several that followed.

“At that shallowness and magnitude of 6.2, we’re going to expect lots of aftershocks for next several hours and maybe the next several days,” said Jessica Turner of the USGS.

Landslides are likely because the earthquake struck in a mountainous area, she said.

Although the extent of damage and injuries was not immediately clear, the earthquake could be devastating.

“Overall, the population in this region resides in structures that are a mix of vulnerable and earthquake resistant construction,” the USGS said.

It described the buildings as un-reinforced brick with mud and concrete frame with infill construction.

Recent quakes

Deadly earthquakes have struck Italy in recent years.

In May 2012, a pair of earthquakes killed dozens of people in northern Italy.

In April 2009, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Italy, killing 295. The earthquake Wednesday struck an area close to the 2009 earthquake.

The US Embassy in Italy urged Americans to check-in via social media and let loved ones know they are safe.

Australian Scientists Uncover Evidence Of Super Eruptions 106 Million Years Ago

Australian scientists believe a super volcano active over 100 million years ago was so powerful it spewed tiny crystals across the breadth of the continent.

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It was not exactly the intended area of inquiry for researchers at Curtin University’s School of Mines but they recently stumbled upon the rather fascinating finding nonetheless.

Dr Milo Barham from the Department of Applied Geology led the study, which originally sought to examine the geology of the Nullarbor Plain in remote southeastern WA in order to study how the southern margin of the country evolved after separating from Antarctica.

However once they made the discovery of zircon crystals unlike any previously found in Western Australia, the research took a slightly new direction.

“It was somewhat fortuitous I suppose,” Dr Barham told news.com.au.

Researchers pulled up a vast amount of core material from the drilling to examine the sediment and study certain fossils. They also took a sample of earth to look at zircon crystal and study their chemistry and age to see what sort of rocks the crystals had been eroded from, Dr Barham recalled.

“And then suddenly there were these crystals that didn’t match any thing we know exists in Western Australia and we looked into it more carefully and we see that the chemistry and age match perfectly for what we’d expect for this volcanic region in eastern Australia.”

Using advanced geochemical fingerprinting of individual crystals as well as in-depth analysis of the sediments and their fossils, scientists were able to determine the crystals were the product of volcanic air fall — despite being 2300km from their original source on the other side of the country.

By looking at the age of the material and aspects of their chemistry “we could tell for definite that it came across from the volcanoes on the east coast”, Dr Barham said.

The findings from the dig point to the occurrence of super-eruptions over 100 million years ago.

According to the researchers at Curtin University, such explosive events would have had magnitudes tens to hundreds of times greater than anything in documented human history.

“Such distal projection of a unique volcanic mineral population demonstrates that super-eruptions were occurring in eastern Australia approximately 106 million years ago, during the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana,” Dr Barham said.

We know about super eruptions in the more recent past. In the last few tens of thousands of years, or maybe a couple million years, he said.

“But trying to go back further to prove these super eruptions is really difficult because it’s very difficult to prove,” he added, because much of the geology from the time has been eroded away.

But given the use of the sophisticated fingerprinting technology, the team is highly confident about their conclusions.

Dr Barham says the findings, which were published in the journal Geology, shine a light on just how violent and volcanic the region was such a long time ago.

These massive eruptions “were not enough to cause any mass extinctions or anything like that but animals would’ve died as a result,” he said.

“It tells us about how violent the east coast of Australia would’ve been at that time.”

Tropical Storm Mindulle To Threaten Tokyo Early This Week

Tropical season is in full swing in the West Pacific, as evidenced by the three tropical storms currently spinning in the basin.

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“The biggest threat to the Japanese mainland will be the storm farthest away currently, as Tropical Storm Mindulle will approach southeast Honshu early this week,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Eric Leister said.

Mindulle will maintain its strength as a tropical storm as it moves through warm ocean waters and battles upper-level winds.

Eastern Honshu will begin to feel impacts from Mindulle on Monday morning, local time. Conditions will worsen as the storm makes landfall southwest of Tokyo Monday night into Tuesday.

The main threats from Mindulle will be flooding rainfall, with widespread amounts of 100 to 150 mm (3 to 6 inches) expected from Tokyo to Sendai and up to Sapporo. Locally higher amounts are possible from the heavier rain bands.

Residents should be on alert for the potential for mudslides and take precautions when driving in areas that may be flooded.

The strongest wind gusts will be along coastal regions.

There are two other tropical systems in the vicinity of Japan.

Tropical Storm Kompasu will continue on a northward track through Monday.

“Kompasu made landfall Sunday night local time in southern Hokkaido. The storm will bring locally heavy rainfall and gusty winds to northern Honshu and eastern Hokkaido into Monday,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Eric Leister said.

This first round of flooding from Kompasu will set the stage for an enhanced flood risk from Mindulle when it moves through late Monday into Tuesday.

The final storm, Tropical Storm Lionrock, is located several hundred kilometers southwest of Tokyo and is expected to drift slowly to the west-southwest before stalling near the Ryukyu Islands.

Tropical Storm Lionrock could intensify into a typhoon next week and bring flooding rain and damaging winds to the Ryukyu Islands.