By Jessica Plautz
August 24, 2016
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck in central Italy early Wednesday at around 3:36 a.m. local time, followed by several aftershocks.

At least 159 people have died, according to the Wall Street Journal. Relief efforts are under way.

The epicenter was near the town of Norcia, in the Umbria region, and damage to some of the towns—particulary Norcia and Amatrice—is severe.

The picturesque villages, some 70 miles northeast of Rome, are popular with tourists looking to step back in time. Now, tragically, much of the towns' architecture has been destroyed.

Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Destruction after an earthquake in central Italy on Aug. 24, 2016.
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

“Half the town no longer exists,” said Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, a town that had been preparing for a festival this weekend. Pirozzi said the first priority is to rescue those who are trapped in rubble.

“We are not going to leave any family alone from any district,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in a statement. “We are going to work because in the next few hours we must continue to bring people alive from beneath the rubble, and bring hope to that territory.”

A clock on a 13th century tower in Amatrice was frozen to the time of the earthquake, according to CNN.

As crews worked to reach those injured and trapped in rubble, leaders abroad offered support and assistance.

“I am deeply concerned to learn of the devastating earthquake in central Italy,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement to Italy's prime minister. “The images of the devastation are shocking. Given the suffering and massive destruction I would like to express my deepest sympathy on behalf of the German population. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the deceased and wish those who are injured a speedy recovery.”

Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Shaking from the earthquake reached as far as Rome. The European Mediterranean Seismological Centre recorded at least 80 aftershocks in the morning hours.

There are two fault lines in the region, one from Genoa to Messina and another running through Italy originating in Naples.

Earthquakes in the region are difficult to predict as the fault lines in the region are hidden, according to a professor at the Italian Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology.

For now, the focus is on recovery.

“In difficult times, Italy knows what to do,” said Prime Minister Renzi.