Central Italy was struck by a powerful, 6.2-magnitude earthquake in the early hours of Wednesday, leaving at least 18 people dead and devastating dozens of mountain villages.
Numerous buildings had collapsed in communities close to the epicentre of the quake near the town of Norcia in the region of Umbria, witnesses told Italian media, with an increase in the death toll highly likely.
The tremors were sufficiently strong to wake residents of central Rome, some 150 km away.
The first two confirmed victims were an elderly couple whose home collapsed in Pescara del Tronto in the Marche region, east of the epicentre, according to national broadcaster Rai.
Another person died and a family of four including two young children were trapped, feared dead, in their collapsed house in Accumoli, a village close to the epicentre, according to its mayor.