At least 247 people died after an earthquake struck central Italy early on Wednesday morning, and hundreds are injured, reported AP. Many are still missing, while rescue officials work towards locating citizens and finding people in the debris. Officials have said the toll is likely to rise as thousands of people holiday in the region in August. Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said many victims were children.

An aftershock with a magnitude of 5.5 struck the region just an hour after the first tremors. Fire Department spokesperson Luca Cari said the worst hit towns were believed to be Accumoli, Amatrice, Posta and Arquata del Tronto. The mayor of Amatrice said residents were buried under debris, and the town "isn't here anymore", reported Reuters.

The quake had a shallow depth of between four and 10 kilometres. Experts say the Apennine mountains in Italy are a “seismic hazard” and that tremors of this magnitude are getting more common in the region.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tweeted that the country’s government was in touch with its civil protection agency, adding that they were monitoring the situation closely. The last such recorded earthquake in Italy took place in 2009, when more than 300 people died.