An Irishman who experienced today's earthquake in Italy, which may have killed more than 100 people, described the experience as “absolutely terrifying”.

The Cork native, who wished to be identified only as Jimmy, was staying in a bed-and-breakfast near L’Aquila, the mountain city northeast of Rome that has been devastated by the quake.

“I was first aware [of it] when the bed started to shake violently. It was like being in a small boat in a stormy sea,” he said.

“Everything was just moving and there was this tremendous sound…a deafening rumble that ensued for the 20 seconds or so that the quake lasted.”

Speaking on RTE’s "News at One," Jimmy said the closet doors “shook violently as if somebody was inside trying to get out and they were locked in.”

“And bits of the plaster started to drop from the ceiling. It was a terrifying experience – the worst experience I ever had in my life.”

He said there had been a tremor about two weeks ago, which was not as violent. His wife, who is Italian and from the area, told him it was a terremoto.

“I misunderstood ‘terremoto.' Terre is earth and moto I thought was a motor – I thought there was an earth-moving machine.” His wife told him it was an earthquake - ‘movement of the earth.'"

“When we got the one last night, I immediately knew what was happening and I knew it was 10 times more violent. It was terrifying, absolutely. I never left the bed at such speed – jumped through the door of the bedroom and stayed underneath the door frame, because…there were bits of plaster dropping from the ceiling.

“We clung to each other. The electricity dropped as well so it was just darkness, so you didn’t know what was falling, what was coming down. We had no idea.”

Jimmy said the tremor lasted about 20 seconds.

“I think it was 6.3 on the Richter scale. Now I know what that means – before it was just a number you see on television. Now I know what it means when you feel the power of it – absolutely terrifying.

“And then a sort of silence and there’s alarm bells and people screaming and we grabbed a jacket and blankets and we ran out into the square. Everybody in the village was in the square with children in what they were wearing in bed, just with a blanket thrown over them, terrified. Some of the buildings collapsed.”

The building in which he and his wife were staying was still upright apart from “major cracks in the walls”.

“But the epicenter, the place is devastated, it’s total destruction. The big problem is many of the roads are blocked off because they opened up – as in split apart. It’s not possible to get access via the roads.”

Irish diplomats in Italy have so far had no contact with Irish citizens seeking assistance, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said this afternoon. The department is maintaining contact with consular staff in Italy, however.