A powerful earthquake struck central Italy early Monday, killing at least 16 people, collapsing buildings and leaving thousands of people homeless, officials and news reports said.
Officials said the death toll was likely to rise as rescue crews made their way through the debris. 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.
A student who was not identified told RAI they were awakened by the quake and ran down the stairs of the dorm before the roof collapsed.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude of the quake was 6.3, though Italy's National Institute of Geophysics put it at 5.8.
The quake struck about 70 miles (110 kilometers) northeast of Rome at 3:32 a.m. local time (0132 GMT), officials said. The Civil Protection Department said the epicenter was near the city of L'Aquila, in the mountainous Abruzzo region.
By early morning, the death toll stood at 16, including five children, with some 30 people unaccounted for, the ANSA news agency reported, citing the Civil Protection Department. The town of Castelnuovo appeared particularly hard hit, with five of the 16 dead there.
"It's the worst tragedy since the start of the millennium," said Guido Bertolaso, the head of the Civil Protection Department.
Residents and rescue workers were hauling away debris from collapsed buildings by hand while bloodied victims waited to be tended to in hospital hallways.
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Update: 4/7/09 Link to video of the damage.