MATRICE (ITALY): The chaos started in the middle of the night. People were shouting and dying in the darkness across Amatrice, a summer getaway in central Italy famous as the birthplace of a pasta dish made with tomatoes and pork cheeks.

It was about 3:36am local time when the 6.2 magnitude earthquake hitted, with a succession of strong aftershocks – including one that is so strong for an hour later, that flattened houses and buried residents in the rubble.

Amatrice was the worst hit by the quake, which also damaged surrounding towns. As of Thursday morning, the deaths totaled at least 247, officials said.

“Half the town no longer exists,” Mayor Sergio Pirozzi of Amatrice told reporters Wednesday morning.

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