It lasted just 30 seconds. But, in that time, the tremor transformed L’Aquila into a disaster zone. The quake’s epicentre was near the historic site, explaining why it bore the brunt of the devastation. And, in surrounding areas, more than 20 other cities and towns were significantly damaged.Tragedy struck at around 3.30 in the morning, as people slept. Children are among the victims. Material destruction is vast. Up to 10,000 buildings have been damaged, including heritage sites. Some 50,000 people are homeless. Part of a university residence and a hotel collapsed. Emergency services are stretched to the limit with medics forced to treat people in the open air. As aftershocks continue, hospitals have appealed for help from doctors and nurses throughout Italy. Among the messages of sympathy and solidarity, the Vatican says Pope Benedict is praying for the earthquake’s victims.