Switzerland has offered its condolences and support to neighbouring Italy following an earthquake that reduced three central towns to rubble, killing at least 247 people.
The magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck at 3:36am on Wednesday and was felt across a broad swath of central Italy, including Rome, where sleeping residents woke to a long swaying followed by aftershocks. The quake shook the Lazio region and Umbria and Le Marche on the Adriatic coast.
Residents emerged from their crumbled homes to find what they described as apocalyptic scenes “like Dante’s Inferno”, with entire blocks of buildings turned into piles of sand and rock, thick dust choking the air and a putrid smell of gas.
“The town isn’t here anymore,” said Sergio Pirozzi, mayor of the hardest-hit town, Amatrice, on Wednesday.
The death toll stood at 247 on Thursday morning. However, the total number of dead and missing was uncertain given the huge number of holiday makers in the area for the final days of summer.
Sympathy and support
Johann Schneider-Ammann, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, sent a letter of sympathy to his Italian counterpart, Sergio Mattarella.
Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter was in contact with his counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni, the foreign ministry said. It added that, as far as it knew, there were no Swiss casualties.
Swiss Public Television SRF's Italian correspondent, Philipp Zahn, reported from the scene that "rescue teams responded extremely fast...the Red Cross and civil protection authorities are also here. One has the impression that help is coordinated."
Italian associations in Switzerland have started to raise money to help those affected in Italy. Mario Troli, president of Amris, told Swiss public television RTS, “The money collected will specifically be used for projects like rebuilding schools or retirement homes."
Grazia Tredanari, president of Com.It.Es, a global organisation for Italians abroad, told RTS, “We are asking regional associations to verify which areas are most affected and how we can best support them.”
What's the threat in Switzerland?
According to the Swiss Seismological Service (SED) at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ), more than 500 earthquakes are recorded in Switzerland every year, though they are mostly moderate in magnitude.
Michèle Marti, head of communication at SED told the Swiss freesheet 20 Minuten that a magnitude 6 quake occurs in Switzerland on average every 50-150 years. The last time was in 1946, when three people died and more were injured.
The areas of Valais, Basel, central Switzerland and the Rhine valley in St Gallen are most at risk.
swissinfo.ch and agencies