Two strong aftershocks hit central Italy, destroying churches and homes and knocking out power, just two months after a powerful earthquake killed nearly 300 people.
But there were no reports of serious injuries or signs of people trapped in rubble, said the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio.
A handful of people were treated for slight injuries or anxiety at area hospitals in the most affected regions of Umbria and Le Marche, he said.
A 73-year-old man died of a heart attack, possibly brought on by the quakes, local authorities told the ANSA news agency.
Mr Curcio said his information was that the aftershocks had not been as “catastrophic” as they could have been.
They were aftershocks to the August 24 earthquake that struck much of central Italy, demolishing buildings in three towns and their hamlets, seismologists said.
Several towns this time also suffered serious damage, with homes in the epicentre of Visso spilling out into the street.
The first struck at 7:10pm local time and carried a magnitude of 5.4. But the second one was eight times stronger at 6.1, according to the US Geological Survey.
Because many residents had already left their homes with plans to spend the night in their cars or elsewhere, they were not home when the second aftershock hit two hours later, possibly saving lives, officials said.
“It was an unheard-of violence. Many houses collapsed,” the mayor of hard-hit Ussita, Marco Rinaldi, told Sky TG24.
“The facade of the church collapsed. By now I have felt many earthquakes. This is the strongest of my life. It was something terrible.”
He said two elderly people were rescued from their home, where they were trapped, and appeared to be in good condition. Some 200 people in Ussita were planning to sleep in the streets, given the impossibility of putting up tents so late at night.
Calling it “apocalyptic,” he said the town and its hamlets were “finished”.
A church crumbled in the ancient Perugian town of Norcia, famed for its Benedictine monastery and its cured meats.
A belltower damaged on August 24 fell and crushed a building in Camerino, ANSA said. Elsewhere, buildings were damaged, though many were in zones that were declared off-limits after the earlier earthquake that flattened parts of three towns.
Schools were closed in several towns on Thursday as a precaution and a handful of hospitals were evacuated after suffering damage.
Premier Matteo Renzi, who cut short a visit to southern Italy to monitor the earthquake response, tweeted “all of Italy is embracing those hit once again”.