Amatrice and Accumoli appear to be the hardest-hit places.
"Amatrice is not here anymore, half of the town is destroyed," Sergio Pirozzi, mayor of Amatrice, told RAI News24.
"People are stuck underneath the rubble. Houses are no longer there," he added.
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Built on a rocky spur, Amatrice was listed in 2015 as one of Italy's most beautiful villages. It is home to 14th century churches which house several religious artworks.
However, to most Italians, the town conjures up images of spaghetti and bucatini made with the famous amatriciana sauce that was invented here.
One of Rome's most popular pasta dishes, amatriciana was even served to Popes. Its ingredients include chopped bacon, fresh tomatoes, pecorino cheese, white wine, pepper and chilli.
A festival celebrating the dish was scheduled to take place in the town this weekend.
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The town is not new to devastating earthquakes. Historic records report that "Amatrice and nearby villages were savaged by an earthquake in 1639."
Oddly, the day of Amatrice's destruction coincides with another catastrophic event. Exactly 1937 years ago, on August 24th, Mount Vesuvius began to erupt, burying Pompeii under 14 to 17 feet of ash and pumice.