Rome: A strong earthquake brought down buildings in central Italy early on Wednesday, trapping residents and sending others fleeing into the streets, with at least six people believed killed.
The worst hit towns were believed to be Accumoli, Amatrice, Posta and Arquata del Tronto, Fire Department spokesman Luca Cari told Reuters, adding that helicopters would be sent up at first light to assess the damage.
The mayor of Accumoli said a number of buildings had been badly damaged.
"Four people are under the rubble, but they are not showing any sign of life. Two parents and two children," Mayor Stefano Petrucci told RAI television.
RAI quoted police as saying two people were known to have died in the nearby village of Pescara del Tronto.
The mayor of the small town of Amatrice reported extensive damage.
"Half the town is gone," Sergio Pirozzi told RAI. "There are people under the rubble... There`s been a landslide and a bridge might collapse."
The U.S. Geological Survey said a 6.2 magnitude quake hit near the town of Norcia, in the region of Umbria, at 3.36 a.m. (0136 GMT).
Italy`s civil protection agency said the earthquake was "severe".
"It was so strong. It seemed the bed was walking across the room by itself with us on it," Lina Mercantini of Ceselli, Umbria, told Reuters.
Olga Urbani, in the nearby town of Scheggino, said: "Dear God it was awful. The walls creaked and all the books fell off the shelves."
Residents of Rome, some 170 km (105 miles) from the epicentre, were woken by the quake, which rattled furniture and swayed lights in most of central Italy.
A 5.5 magnitude aftershock hit the same region an hour after the initial quake.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi`s spokesman said on Twitter that the government was in touch with the civil protection agency and following the situation closely.
The last major earthquake to hit Italy struck the central city of L`Aquila in 2009, killing more than 300 people.