ROME – A strong earthquake rocked central Italy early Monday, killing at least six people, causing buildings to collapse and sending panicked residents into the streets, officials and news reports said.
Several people were also reported missing in the area of the quake, which was felt in much of central Italy, including Rome.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude was 6.3, though Italy's National Institute of Geophysics put the magnitude at 5.8.
"The situation is very serious because the quake affected buildings," including a student dormitory that collapsed, said Luca Spoletini, spokesman for the national Civil Protection Department.
He declined to give a death toll, saying rescue operations were under way.
The quake struck about 70 miles (110 kilometers) northeast of Rome at about 3:32 a.m. local time (0132 GMT, 9:32 p.m. EDT), officials said. The Civil Protection Department said the epicenter was near the city of L'Aquila, in the mountainous Abruzzo region.
Television footage from the scene showed residents and rescue workers already hauling away debris from collapsed buildings.
Four children died in L'Aquila after their houses collapsed, the ANSA news agency said.
Massimo Cialente, mayor of L'Aquila, told Sky TG24 that two other people were reported dead in the nearby small town of Fossa. He confirmed reports that another eight were missing in another small town.
The ANSA news agency said the dome of a church in l'Aquila collapsed, while the city's cathedral also suffered damages.
Cialente said some 100,000 people had left their homes and that many buildings in the city's historic center were damaged.
The quake was the latest in a series of jolts that struck the area over the past two days.