Over 250 people were reported killed and dozens more were missing or feared dead Wednesday after a magnitude-6.2 earthquake and a series of aftershocks struck several towns in central Italy, toppling scores of buildings, according to Italy's civil protection agency.
Hardest hit were towns in the regions of Umbria, Lazio and Marche some 80 to 100 miles northeast of Rome.
Immacolata Postiglione, head of the civil protection agency, had put the figure of 73 at a briefing Wednesday but stressed the figures were still provisional.
The quake that struck at 3.36 am was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including the capital Rome, where residents felt a long swaying followed by aftershocks. First images of damage showed debris in the street and some collapsed buildings in towns and villages that dot much of the Umbrian countryside.
Earlier, the Italian news agency ANSA reported at least 35 were killed in the town of Amatrice, 11 in Accumoli, near Rieti, and 17 in the province of Ascoli Piceno, which includes Pescara del Tronto.
As rescue teams using bulldozers and bare hands clawed through piles of rubble, authorities warned the death toll is likely to rise.
Mayor Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, told the Associated Press that rescue teams are trying to reach all 69 hamlets around his town.
''Half of the town doesn't exist anymore,'' Pirozzi told RAI-TV. ''People are stuck underneath the rubble. Houses are no longer there.''
Police near the town of Ascoli said they could hear cries for help from under the rubble but lacked the heavy equipment to move the rocks, according the RAI radio.
In Accumoli, one witness told ANSA that fire and police teams looking for a young couple and two children in a pile of rubble were alternating earth-moving equipment with individuals using bare hands.
The centre of Amatrice was devastated and homes collapsed on residents as they slept. Pirozzi said the quake level several buildings and knocked out power to the community, hampering communications with emergency responders.
The local hospital was also badly hit, forcing the wounded and stretcher-bearers to gather in front of the building. Ambulances then transferred patients to other towns.