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The death toll from a powerful earthquake that shook central Italy rose to 247 on Thursday Luke Falk Jersey , officials said, as rescuers desperately searched for survivors in the rubble of devastated mountain villages.

  Rescue and emergency services personnel carry a survivor on a stretcher during search and rescue operations in Amatrice

Hundreds of others were injured, some critically, and an unknown number were trapped under the ruins of collapsed buildings after Wednesday's pre-dawn quake.


Amid scenes of carnage, dozens of emergency services staff and volunteers were determined to attempt to pluck more survivors from the ruins.


Rescuers had pledged to work through the night in the hope of finding people alive in the mangled wreckage of homes.


Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had earlier warned that the toll would likely rise after visiting the badly hit village of Amatrice.


Hundreds of people spent a chilly night in hastily assembled tents with the risk of aftershocks making it too risky for them to return home.


Scores of buildings were reduced to dusty piles of masonry in communities close to the epicentre of the quake Kevin Byard Jersey , which had a magnitude of between 6.0 and 6.2.


It hit a remote area straddling Umbria, Marche and Lazio at a time of year when second-home owners and other visitors swell the numbers staying there. Many of the victims were from Rome.


The devastated area is just north of L'Aquila, the city where some 300 people died in another quake in 2009.


Most of the deaths occurred in and around the villages of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto.


- Anguish -


Guido Bordo, 69 Derrick Henry Jersey , lost his sister and her husband after they were trapped inside their holiday house in the hamlet of Illica, near Accumoli.


""There's no sound from them, we only heard their cats,"" he told AFP before the deaths were confirmed.


""I wasn't here. As soon as the quake happened, I rushed here. They managed to pull my sister's children out Jack Conklin Jersey , they're in hospital now,"" he added, wringing his hands in anguish.


Among the victims was a nine-month-old baby girl whose parents survived, an 18-month-old toddler and two other young children who died with their parents in Accumoli.


Two boys aged four and seven were saved by their quick-thinking grandmother, who ushered them under a bed as soon as the shaking began Jonnu Smith Jersey , according to reports. She also survived but lost her husband.


Renzi said it was too early to consider what might have been done to prevent the disaster.


""Today is the time for tears and emotion,"" he said, vowing that his government would start reconstruction work first thing on Thursday.


- Bodies in playground -


It was Italy's most powerful earthquake since the 2009 disaster in L'Aquila.


""Half the village has disappeared,"" said Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi, surveying a town centre that looked as if had been subjected to a bombing raid.


The tremors were strong enough to be felt 150 kilometres (90 miles) away in Rome Taywan Taylor Jersey , where authorities ordered structural tests on the Colosseum.


The first quake measured 6.2 Adoree' Jackson Jersey , according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).


But he added: ""Unlike the L'Aquila quake, which was preceded by swarms of smaller quakes and led to claims -- unjustified in my view -- that the eventual big quake should have been predicted Corey Davis Jersey , this one appears to have struck out of the blue.""

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