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L'AQUILA, Italy - An earthquake struck a huge swath of central Italy as residents slept yesterday, killing more than 50 people and making up to 50000 homeless.
Most of the dead were in L'Aquila, a 13th century mountain city about 100km east of Rome, and surrounding towns and villages in the Abruzzo region.
Houses, historic churches and other buildings were demolished in the quake to hit Italy in nearly 30 years.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni visited the area and said the death toll had surpassed 50.
Luca Spoletini, a civil protection department spokesperson, said the quake may have made up to 50000 people homeless. About 26 cities and towns were seriously damaged.
In the small town of Onna alone, 10 people were killed.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cancelled a trip to Moscow and declared a national emergency, which would free up funds for aid and rebuilding. Pope Benedict XVI said he was praying for the victims. - Reuters