The death toll continues to rise after a magnitude 6.2 earthquake shook the mountainous countryside in central Italy around 3:30 a.m. local time. This morning, officials are reporting at least 39 deaths related to the earthquake, many of which were residents of Pescara del Tronto, one of the many small villages close to the earthquake’s epicenter. With many buildings completely destroyed by the earthquake, rescue workers have a difficult task ahead as they sort through rubble in search of survivors.

Last night’s powerful earthquake hit 6.2 miles (10 km) southeast of Norcia, in a rural mountain region of Italy popular among tourists. After the initial quake, a series of at least eight smaller aftershocks pounded the area, including a 5.5 magnitude quake less than three miles from Norcia. The last significant earthquake to hit the region occurred in 1997, when a magnitude 6.0 quake killed 11 people and destroyed 80,000 homes.

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Destruction from the earthquake is widespread, although the small town of Amatrice (pictured above) may have suffered the most damage. The town of 2,000 residents just north of Italy’s Lazio region, and southeast of the initial quake. Reportedly, the entire town is in ruins, and the mayor has issued a plea for assistance. “The town is no more,” Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told a CNN affiliate.

In Amatrice and other small villages, rescue workers are using cell phones to locate earthquake victims. They call the phones of missing residents and, if someone answers, rescue workers learn their location and attempt to reach them. If there is no answer, they move on to the next name on the list. As rescue work continues, officials say the death toll is expected to rise further in the coming days, and it will be months before the structural damage is fully assessed. At first glance, it seems likely that many areas will be rendered uninhabitable, and perhaps become ghost towns.

Via CNN and USGS

Lead image via USGS via screenshot