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The combination of a shallow fault and old, unreinforced masonry buildings led to widespread devastation in the earthquake that struck central Italy early Wednesday, reported Times of India.
The magnitude-6.2 quake killed at least 247 people and left hundreds more injured. Many people were trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Like other villages and towns in the mountainous area, Amatrice, where the mayor lamented that "half the town no longer exists," has stone churches and other buildings that were constructed centuries ago, when little if anything was known about earthquakes. Unless they have been reinforced in recent years, such structures are easily damaged or destroyed by shaking.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's cabinet was meeting on Thursday to decide emergency measures to help the affected communities. "Today is a day for tears, tomorrow we can talk of reconstruction," he told reporters late on Wednesday.
"Even 100 years ago, they didn't know how to build structures to withstand earthquakes," said David A Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England.
The earthquake was less powerful than many recent deadly quakes. The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015, for instance, killing 8,000 people, released roughly 250 times more energy.
But the Italian quake was very shallow: According to the U.S. Geological Survey, it occurred about 6 miles below the surface.
"Shallow earthquakes cause more destruction than deep earthquakes because the shallowness of the source makes the ground-shaking at the surface worse," Rothery said.
Video from Amatrice and other towns near the quake center showed heaps of masonry rubble from buildings that had been shaken apart.
Earthquakes are set off by the movement of the earth's crust, which is divided into large sections called tectonic plates. The Apennine Mountains, where the quake occurred Wednesday, are in an area where one plate, the African, is moving under another, the Eurasian.
Because of the complex interaction between the plates, the basin of the Tyrrhenian Sea, off Italy's west coast, is spreading. It is this spreading, and the tension it creates in the Apennines, that led to the quake.
The area of Wednesday's temblor experienced significant earthquakes in the past, including one with a magnitude of 6.3 near the town of L'Aquila in 2009 that killed at least 295 people, injured more than 1,000 and left 55,000 homeless.
The two quakes had much in common, said Massimo Cocco, a geologist with the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome.
Read more on timesofindia.indiatimes.com.