Antonio Tajani, a former spokesman for Silvio Berlusconi, was elected president of the European Parliament yesterday. He dedicated his victory to the people who died in the earthquake in central Italy last August. At 10.25 this morning, a magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck not far from Amatrice. There have been three more of equivalent size in the hours since (and 200 of magnitude 2 or above): an unprecedented phenomenon, Alessandro Amato of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology told La Repubblica. Geologists registered a swarm of small tremors on the affected fault last week. They warned the Protezione Civile that a bigger one was possible. All the recent seismic activity has been along the same series of faults, between L’Aquila and Ussita (40 miles to the northwest).

The area was already struggling under a freak snowfall of several metres. The ground motions set off avalanches and landslides. Power lines are down, villages are cut off, livestock are dying. The Italian papers are full of biblical scenes of sheep huddling in snow drifts. Roofs have caved in. People are looking ahead to a night without light or heat in their houses. Many will be sleeping – or not – in public buildings. In Pieve Torino, the snow and tremors between them brought down the temporary structure put up to replace the nursery school destroyed last year. The mayor says there’s a need for ‘more State and less bureaucracy’ – an impossible demand, perhaps, but you can see where he’s coming from.