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Pope Francis Pays Surprise Visit to Towns Devastated by Earthquake

On Tuesday Pope Francis paid an unannounced visit to several of the towns hardest hit by an earthquake that struck central Italy in late August, killing nearly 300 people.

The Pope’s first stop was Amatrice, a town that was laid to waste by the August 24 quake and its aftershocks. Francis visited an improvised school building and met with students there, before heading on to the “red zone”—the hardest hit area that is off-limits to the public and still considered dangerous.

Pope Francis said that he wanted to visit the area to pay tribute to the victims and give support to the population. On his return trip from Azerbaijan Sunday he had announced his desire to visit the towns in a low-key way, but hadn’t revealed when he would do so.

“I didn’t want to be a bother, so I let a bit of time pass. I am here just to tell you I am close to you and I pray for you,” the Pope told the local citizens Tuesday.

After his hour-long visit to Amatrice, the Pope headed on to two other towns that suffered major damage from the earthquake: Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto. Later in the day he will visit Assisi, since today is the feast of Saint Francis as well as the Pope’s name day.

Nearly 300 people were killed when the 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck the town of Norcia, followed by several strong aftershocks. Of those who died, more than 230 were from Amatrice.

At one point after the initial quake, the mayor of Amatrice, announced: “The town is gone.”

The Italian government estimated the total damage caused by the earthquake to be in the neighborhood of 4 billion euros.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

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