ADestroyed building in Rome

One resident who lives near St Peter's Square said she "felt the apartment shaking and the walls cracking".

There were reports of panicked residents leaving their homes and rushing onto the streets.

Officials at the Foreign Ministry evacuated their building, and a landslide forced a section of the Salaria highway north of Rome to close.

A Serie A football match between Pescara and Atalanta was also stopped for several minutes when the tremors started.

The epicentre of the first 5.4-magnitude quake was in Visso, about 100 miles northeast of the capital, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Tremors were felt from Perugia to Rome, and also in the town of L'Aquila - which was hit by an earthquake in 2009.

Civil protection agency spokeswoman Ornella De Luca said pieces of building had crumbled onto the streets and power lines had fallen.

The only injuries reported so far are to two people in Visso.

But Marco Rinaldi, the mayor of Ussita, minutes from the epicentre, described the tremors as "apocalyptic" and "unheard-of violence".

He said "many houses collapsed" and that people were screaming on the street as the town was left without power.

"The facade of the church collapsed. By now I have felt many earthquakes. This is the strongest of my life. It was something terrible," he told Sky's Italian news channel.

The first quake struck at 7.10pm local time, with the USGS putting it at a relatively shallow depth of six miles.

The second stronger quake, measuring 6.4 magnitude, struck the region at 9.18pm. Its epicentre was also in Visso, in Italy's Marche region.

It comes just two months after an earthquake in the same area destroyed hilltop villages and killed nearly 300 people.

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