Prime minister Matteo Renzi has promised that the Italian government will rebuild everything destroyed by a series of earthquakes that have devastated the central regions of the country - including today's earthquake that destroyed the Basilica of St Benedict, built above the home of the saint, in the town of Norcia.
“We will rebuild everything — the houses, the churches, the shops. We are dealing with marvelous territories, territories of beauty,” Renzi told reporters on Sunday, reconfirming a pledge he made after an earthquake in Amatrice killed more than 300 people and levelled the ancient town.
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis said prayers for those affected by the earthquake, which seriously injured a number of people but has so far not claimed any lives. “I express my closeness to the people of central Italy,” the Pope said in the Vatican on Sunday morning. “I pray for the wounded and the families that have suffered major damage; as well as for the personnel” involved in rescue efforts and in aiding the victims."
He concluded his remarks with the prayer “May the Risen Lord give them strength, and the Madonna watch over them.”
Sunday’s earthquake was the latest in a series of seismic events to strike central Italy. Earlier this month, Francis visited the area to express his closeness to victims of magnitude 6.2 quake that hit the region in August, killing almost 300 people. This morning's earthquake could be felt as far away as Rome 100 miles away - and was strong enough to set off car alarms both in Rome and Venice.
The earthquake in Norcia on Sunday was the strongest so far in the latest series of tremors, measuring approximately 6.5 on the Richter scale. It is believed to be the strongest quake in Italy since 1980.
Significant structural damage was recorded as many buildings had already been weakened by earlier earthquakes in the region. The Basilica of St Benedict, built over the birthplace of Sts Benedict and Scholastica has been destroyed. The destruction was confirmed by the monks at Norcia who said on Twitter that they suffered no casualties but are searching for any victims of the earthquake that "may need Last Rites".
"This morning, around 7:40, a massive earthquake struck the area near Norcia," a statement by the monks said on their website. We monks are all fine, but our hearts go now to those affected, and the monks of the monastery trying to figure out if someone is in need of extreme unction.
"The Basilica of St. Benedict, the historic church built over St. Benedict the house, collapsed as a result of these shocks. That this serves to illustrate the power of the earthquake, and the urgency that we feel monks in going to the aid of those in need of the Sacraments in this difficult day for Italy," the statement added.