A 6.0-magnitude tremor on Wednesday hit a mountainous area near the city of Rieti, some 140 km northeast of Rome, at 3:36 a.m. local time (0136 GMT), according to the National Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (INGV).
The places hardest hit were the towns Amatrice and Accumoli in Rieti province, and the villages of Arquata del Tronto and Peschiera del Tronto in the eastern Marche region.
At least 190 people were confirmed dead in the first two towns, and at least 57 in the villages, the Italian civil protection emergency chief Titti Postiglione told a press conference in Rome early on Thursday.
Some 274 injured people are currently in hospitals, she added.
The official toll is expected to rise further, however. Civil protection chief Fabrizio Curcio warned that figures were still fluid, as rescuers are still digging under the rubble and dozens of people remain unaccounted for.
The number of victims might in fact exceed 200 in the town of Amatrice alone, mayor Sergio Pirozzi told local media on Thursday morning.
Thousands of homeless spent the night in tents set up all around the quake-stricken villages and towns.
Meanwhile, central Italy continues to tremble. A 4.5-magnitude quake was registered in Rieti province at 3:17 a.m. local time (0317 GMT), and could be clearly felt across the Lazio and Marche regions, the INGV stated. No new casualties were reported yet.
Some 460 aftershocks overall have followed since Wednesday morning, Seismology experts said.
The quake swarm is increasing fears and unease among the displaced, and creating more risks to those who kept digging in a desperate search for last survivors.
Overall, some 4,000 officials are involved in the rescue mission, according to the civil protection authorities.
The Italian cabinet will hold an emergency meeting later on Thursday afternoon in order to deliver the provisions necessary to allocate a first tranche of 50 million euros (56 million U.S. dollars) as immediate aid to the stricken areas.
On Wednesday, the economy ministry pledged 234 million euros (263 million U.S. dollars) from the national emergency fund to assist those in the towns and villages destroyed by the quake.
Source: Xinhua/News Ghana