The death toll following the 6.2 magnitude earthquake in central Italy rose sharply overnight – Wednesday's estimate of 159 victims was updated to 247 – as rescue teams make their way through the affected towns.
The mountain towns of Amatrice, Pescara del Tronto, Arquata del Tronto, and Accumoli, all north of Rome, were hit the worst, although tremors were felt from Bologna to Naples. Hundreds of aftershocks followed the initial quake, including one that registered at 5.4 magnitude.
A team of more than 5,000 police, firefighters, Army troops, and volunteers continue to work on rescue operations and provide services for those whose homes were destroyed.
"I haven't slept much because I was really afraid," Arquata del Tronto resident Arturo Onesie, who spent the night in a tent camp for survivors and rescue workers, told the Associated Press. Tent cities have begun to spring up around towns hit the hardest as trucks clear away rubble and rescue operations continue.
A 10-year-old girl was rescued after 17 hours under the rubble of Pescara del Tronto, according to chief firefighter Danilo Dionesei, who confirmed she was taken to a nearby hospital.
Others were not as fortunate, including many children. One 18-month-old victim's mother was a survivor of another of Italy's deadliest recent earthquakes: a 5.9 in 2009 in the nearby town of L'Aquila, which killed upward of 300 people. This week's death toll is expected to surpass that, as the chances of finding survivors diminishes with time.
Amatrice, which is popular with tourists, was voted one of Italy's most beautiful historic towns last year, inspiring even more visitors this summer. Many of them are among those missing after the quake.
Rescue workers found good news at the site of the town's Hotel Roma, where they initially thought 70 people had been staying. However, Luigi d'Angelo, an official with the civil protection agency, said that only 35 people were staying at the hotel, and many had managed to escape. An estimated 10 guests are still missing, and five were killed.
In Vatican City, Pope Francis held a prayer service with some 11,000 Catholic pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square, in lieu of the scheduled weekly general audience. He also thanked the volunteers and emergency works who had been operating through the night to rescue victims of the quake. On Thursday, six of the Vatican's own firefighters traveled to join them.
"Hearing the news of the earthquake that has struck central Italy and devastated entire areas, leaving many dead and wounded, I cannot fail to express my heartfelt sorrow and my closeness," particularly to "those who are still shaken by fear and terror," the pope said, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
The Red Cross, which has been providing emergency medical service for those who have been rescued but injured, has asked local residents of the effected towns to open their Wi-Fi networks and remove their passwords in order to facilitate communication of rescue teams and help people get it touch with loved ones to let them know they are safe, or call for help when they are not.
Some security experts have cautioned that removing passwords could leave phones and computers vulnerable. However, security researcher Terence Eden told WIRED that people near the earthquake zone could consider setting up a guest Wi-Fi network to help survivors.
"You want to help, but if you open up your network anyone who can connect to it could send malicious communications, download illegal material or potentially hack any computer connected to that network," Mr. Eden said.
This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.