By Daily Mail Reporter
At least 27 people including five children have been killed and dozens more injured after a powerful earthquake rocked central Italy early today.
Italian authorities fear thousands of people also face being left homeless after the 6.3-magnitude quake struck at around 2.30am UK time near L'Aquila, around 60 miles north east of Rome.
There are reports of widespread damage in the medieval town, including a collapsed university residence and church tower, with dozens of rescue workers sifting through rubble.
An Italian military carabinieri walks on debris past destroyed buildings after a strong earthquake rocked central Italy
ANSA news agency said four children died in L'Aquila, which has a population of 70,000, after their houses collapsed.
The town's mayor, Massimo Cialente, told Sky Italia that two people were reported dead in the nearby small town of Fossa. He also confirmed reports that eight more were missing in another small town.
Local hospital officials said at least 27 people have died.
Britons living in the region have told of feeling their houses violently shaking in the early hours today.
Matthew Peacock, who lives with his wife and child in the Umbrian town of Amelia - around 60 miles north of Rome - said he woke up around 2.30am UK time feeling a 'very significant shaking'.
He told Sky News: 'It was quite an extraordinary experience.
'I live in a big old stone house with walls a metre thick.
'It felt like the house was being shaken from the rooftop - my bed was banging against the wall and you could hear this creaking.
Thousands of people face being left homeless after their houses collapsed
'I rushed across the hallway to my son, who's five, grabbed him and stood underneath the doorway. The shaking went on for 20 seconds or so.'
Mr Peacock - who said he felt two or three aftershocks after the initial quake - added: 'The earth really felt like jelly underneath.
Dogs outside were making an incredible racket.
'I have been around the house and it seems fine.
Firefighters help a woman out of a crumbled home in the city of L'Aquila
'You can see the local town on the next hill, and all the lights are on so people must be up.'
Another Briton living in Monte San Marino, a small town in the Apennine mountain range 60 miles to the north east of L'Aquila - said he also woke up to find the house shaking.
Barry Raven told Sky News: 'It continued to shake for about 30 seconds.
'When you felt it you were thinking "Is this the beginning or is this the end?"
Rescue workers have been sifting through rubble since the quake hit at 2.30am. There are reports of widespread damage in the medieval town including a collapsed university residence and church tower
'I checked my own house, and we still have all our utilities - electricity and water. We are OK.'
The quake was also felt in Rome and as far south as Naples, more than 100 miles away from the epicentre.
Powerful earthquakes are relatively rare in Italy.