A powerful 6.2 magnitude earthquake ripped through the mountains in central Italy on Wednesday, claiming at least 159 lives as it flattened several villages and towns, a media report said.Citing Italy's national news agency ANSA, CNN reported that at least 159 people were killed as rescue operations were underway in the Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto towns of Italy.
Earlier in the day Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said that at least 120 people were killed and 368 injured in the disaster.
“This is not a final toll," Renzi warned.
A series of aftershocks struck towns in the region, toppling scores of buildings, according to reports.
Many persons are still believed trapped beneath building debris, while rescuers were struggling to reach remote villages and towns levelled in the quake.
The Prime Minister had paid tribute to the volunteers and civil defence officials who rushed to the scene in the middle of the night and used their bare hands to dig for survivors.
The earthquake struck at a shallow depth of 10 km.
The epicentre of the quake was in Norcia in Umbria, about 170 km north-east of Rome, while the hardest hit were the towns of Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto.
Much of the town of Amatrice was reduced to rubble.
Amatrice is known for its traditional all'amatriciana pasta sauce, and was gearing up to hold a festival celebrating the recipe this weekend, CNN reported.
The town is popular with holidaymakers and most of the 2,500 people left displaced by the earthquake were said to be visitors.
The Italian branch of the Red Cross sent at least 20 ambulances and sniffer dogs to affected areas alongside the Italian Defence Ministry.