Twenty-seven people, including five children, are confirmed dead and over 30 are missing after an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale hit the Abruzzo region in the early hours of 6 April. However, the death toll is still provisional and is likely to rise.

The quake occurred just after 03.30, with the epicentre just a few kilometres north of the centre of L’Aquila. However, casualties were also registered in the nearby towns of Castelnuovo, Poggio Picenze, Tornimparte, Fossa, Totani and Villa Sant’Angelo. Up to 10,000 buildings are damaged as a result of the quake and have had to be evacuated.

Fire fighters are working to rescue people trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings while the regional health authorities have mobilised to attend to the injured. Rescue operations are being coordinated by Guido Bertolaso, head of the civil protection department, who has described the earthquake as “the worst tragedy of the new millennium”.

The earthquake was also felt across much of central Italy including Colleferro, Monterotondo, and Rome, where buildings shook violently, waking residents and sending many people into the street.

Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has declared a state of emergency and cancelled a planned trip to Moscow.