The one-two punch packed by the quakes some two hours apart Wednesday evening meant many people were out of harm's way before the second, more powerful temblor, which toppled many historic buildings that had survived previous jolts.
But no one was trapped in rubble and there were no reports of serious injuries. The only death in the aftermath was attributed to a heart attack in a 73-year-old man.
Thousands of people ran outside into a downpour, and many slept in their cars as it was too late for authorities to scramble for emergency shelter. The government on Thursday earmarked 40 million euros ($43.6 million) to help rebuild, while civil protection officials said the first priority would be to find people hotels and other structures.
"We have to avoid that people sleep in cars or tents," said the head of Italy's civil protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio. "The plan is to bring people to hotels and then to come up with temporary solutions with calm."
Mayors of towns scattered in the mountain region spanning the Umbria and Marche regions say many more homes were rendered uninhabitable, on top of those damaged in the devastating August quake. In the town of Ussita, Mayor Marco Rinaldi said his town had been "devastated," with up to 80 percent of the houses no longer inhabitable.
Macerata prefect Roberta Preziotti said people were able to react quickly to the first quake because of the early hour.
"And by the time the second, stronger quake hit there was no one still in their houses. There was a quick reaction thanks to the time of day, which allowed an immediate evacuation," she told The Associated Press.
For some people in the mountainous region, the second jolt felt stronger than the Aug. 24 quake that killed nearly 300 people. Seismologists say the two new quakes and clusters of smaller shocks were aftershocks to the deadly event.
"This time the house was upside down, everywhere, the walls, the cupboards, the wardrobes were moving. The big wooden, heavy wardrobes were moving, were sliding around," Elena Zabunchi, a Ukrainian resident of Visso said.
Camerino Mayor Gianluca Pasqui said the town's historic bell tower had collapsed, but emphasized that reconstruction work after a 6.1 quake in 1997 appeared to have contributed to the absence of serious injury.
"I can say that the city didn't have victims. That means that even if there is a lot of damage probably the reconstruction in the historic center was done in a correct and adequate manner. Because otherwise, we would be speaking of something else," Pasqui told Sky TG24.
The president of Umbria region, Catiuscia Marini, told RAI state television that officials are scrambling to come up with temporary housing, mindful that with winter approaching and temperatures dropping, tents can't be deployed as they were after the August quake. The concern for the predominantly elderly population of the remote mountain region was repeated by other officials.
Marini said that after the quakes many people will be fearful of staying even in hotels deemed safe, and that solutions like campers were being considered. Curcio said they were looking for solutions out of the quake zone and toward the coast.
"We don't have injured, we have people who are very afraid, who have anxiety, especially the elderly," she said.
In Visso, where about 800 people were without shelter, Mayor Giuliano Passaglini said he was only able to provide shelter for a couple hundred residents overnight, and most people spent the night in their cars. He told residents Thursday that "tonight, we are not leaving anyone in the streets," laying out options for accommodations.
Firefighters were helping residents to retrieve objects from their homes in areas that were sealed off because they are deemed dangerous. Most buildings were intact, showing only cracks. The mayor estimated that two-thirds of the town's 1,500 houses had sustained some damage while the remaining residents preferred not to return home until checks were made to ensure safety.
The first quake at 7:10 p.m. had a magnitude of 5.4. But the second one a little more than two hours later was eight times stronger at 6.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The quakes, shaking buildings in Rome some 230 kilometers (145 miles) southwest of the epicenter, were actually aftershocks of the magnitude 6.2 earthquake from two months ago. Because they were so close to the surface — about 10 kilometers, or 6 miles — they have the potential to cause more shaking and more damage.