TORONTO - Italians in Canada sprang into action Monday trying to find ways to help loved-ones and perfect strangers alike after an earthquake in L'Aquila killed more than 150 people and injured some 1,500.

There were estimates that between 10,000 to 15,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless in the mountainous central Italian community.

Pal Di Iulio, the head of Villa Charities, one of the Canada's largest Italian-Canadian foundations, spent Monday taking phone calls from people wanting to know what they can do to help.

"There's tremendous emotion and we're trying translate that emotion and passion into some sort of plan," Di Iulio said from Toronto.

Patrons at the cafes and bars that line Toronto's Little Italy were glued to televisions for updates. Antonio Lentini, a chef at an Italian restaurant, said many expatriates maintain close ties with Italy and they were anxious to find out what's happening and what aid they can provide.

"They have big hearts," said Lentini, 34, who was born in Sicily.

At the Ontario legislature, there were suggestions from a senior provincial politician that the federal and provincial governments will have a role to play in aid efforts.

"This is a shock to the system for the whole world, but certainly for Italian-Canadians," said Greg Sorbara, a Liberal who represents the riding of Vaughan, north of Toronto.

"It is very painful and it brings memories of the earthquake in the 1970s where Canadian efforts were very significant in rebuilding."

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said he spoke with the Consul General of Italy in Toronto "to express our concern and condolences on behalf of all Ontarians."

In 1976, a series of earthquakes spanning several months killed at least 951 people.

Monday's earthquake was Italy's deadliest quake since Nov. 23, 1980, when one measuring 6.9-magnitude hit southern regions, levelling villages and causing some 3,000 deaths.

In Montreal, Italian associations from across the city were planning to meet to discuss ways to help the victims, said Guido Piccone, president of the Associazione Famiglia Abruzzese. The group that represents families in Italy's Abruzzo region, of which L'Aquila is the capital.

Though it was too early to assess, Piccone said based on conversations with people in the region, there will be a lot of needs.

"No gas, nothing. They're on the streets, they're trying to get water somewhere, it's a big problem," Piccone said.

The Quebec wing of National Congress of Italian Canadians said it was working with international aid organizations stationed in the quake-ravaged region.

"We have already contacted the Red Cross who have people on site in Italy right now and they're supposed to be getting back to us to see if there are any immediate needs for the people in the area," said Tony Sciascia, president of the Quebec chapter.

There were no immediate reports of any Canadian fatalities or injuries.

L'Aquila was near the epicentre about 110 kilometres northeast of Rome. It is a quake-prone region that has had at least nine smaller jolts since the beginning of April. The quake struck at 3:32 a.m.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the big quake was magnitude 6.3, but Italy's National Institute of Geophysics put it at 5.8 and more than a dozen aftershocks followed.

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