The epicentre was at Cesi, near Serravalle of Chienti, in the province of Macerata, but the tremor made its force felt right across central Italy.
At Collecurti, another area of Serravalle, a couple of elderly people died under the rubble of their own house.
That evening, the head of Civil Protection, Franco Barberi, labelled the occurrence of a subsequent stronger quake as “impossible” and assured the crowd that the seismic activity would die down soon enough.
But the morning after, at 11:40 am, a magnitude 6.1 tremor again knocked out the region, adding to the devastation of the previous night.
The number of victims rose to 11, among them four technicians and monks who were inspecting the upper church of the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi to gauge the extent of the damage caused by the nocturnal quake. During the longer tremor at 11:40 am, one of the church vaults fell on top of them and Angelo Api, Zdzislaw Borowiec, Bruno Brunacci and Claudio Bugiantella all died instantly.
If the earthquake hadn’t happened in the middle of the night, the damage might have been much worse. In fact, the first tremor had already made many buildings and homes inaccessible. Numerous schools had been closed because of damage or as a precaution and, for the same reason, many people were already outside. This ended up being fortunate.
The towns most affected were Foligno and Nocera Umbra, where 85 per cent of the buildings were declared inaccessible. Many mountain villages of the Umbrian-Marchigian Apennines were transformed overnight into ghost towns, their town centres full of rubble and barriers. Inhabitants were transferred to camps of containers provided by the Civil Protection, converted later into small wooden homes where many people continued to live in the long years of reconstruction.
On October 14, a new magnitude 5.5 tremor with an epicentre between Sellano and Preci brought back fear in the earthquake zone. The fall of the torrino, the bell tower of the Foligno community, already damaged from the last quake, remains an emblem of that day.
In the meantime, winter came, and it was a winter that the families of that area still remember vividly. The communities passed the bitter months in metal containers, in car parks-turned-townships, in sheds-turned-schools and in garages-turned-houses.
On August 24, 2016, almost 20 years after the 1997 disaster, central Italy was again struck by a devastating earthquake which claimed 299 lives, and the community of Umbria was forced to relive a nightmare that was all too familiar.
In October of the same year, another magnitude 6.6 tremor shook the central region, causing further destruction and leaving thousands without homes.