Rome metro evacuated as powerful earthquakes rock Italy

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Italian military stand guard by Rome's Republic subway station after it was closed to the public for controls on January 18, 2017 following an earthquake that hit central Italy. Three earthquakes hit central Italy on january 18 in a seismic triple-punch that brought fresh terror to a snowbound mountainous area still reeling from deadly quakes last year. The epicentres were all close to the town of Amatrice, where nearly 300 people died in an earthquake in August. There were no reports of casualties in the three hours after Wednesday's first shock struck at 10:25 am (0925 GMT). / AFP / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

ROME–The metro system and some schools in Italy’s capital, Rome, were being evacuated Wednesday following a series of powerful earthquakes that struck the heart of the country.

An initial 5.3-magnitude quake hit central Italy 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) west-northwest of Amatrice, a town devastated by powerful temblors last year, the US Geological Survey (USGS) reported.

While the epicenter was 90 kilometers northeast of Rome, the quake was felt strongly in the capital, sending people running from buildings in a panic.

It struck at 10:25 am (4:25 am ET) at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers and has been followed by six aftershocks in the same area, including one as strong as 5.7, the USGS reported.

There are no immediate reports of casualties or damage but firefighters told CNN that heavy snow blocking roads has hampered their initial assessment.

Around 850 firefighters are engaged but there have been no requests for rescues so far, the Italian Fire Department said in a Twitter post.

Disaster authorities in Rome said they had been inundated with hundreds of calls from the city.

Officials have begun looking for cracks and damage to structures in the city, many of them ancient and vulnerable from previous tremors.

Nearly 300 people were killed in central Italy in an August quake and a series of aftershocks that reduced much of Amatrice’s center to rubble.

Another series of quakes hit the region in October, but the impact was small as most people had evacuated from the previous tremors.