Updated: 04/10/16 : 12:32:13
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World :: Pope Francis makes surprise visit to earthquake town

Pope Francis has made an unannounced visit to Amatrice, the central Italian town devastated by an earthquake six weeks ago.

Large crowds gathered on Tuesday as the pontiff arrived at a local school where he met children, survivors and relatives of the victims.

He said he wanted the visit to be made in private in order to be closer to those directly affected.

The magnitude-6.2 quake in August killed nearly 300 people.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, authorities advised the Pope that it was unsafe to visit the region.

The 79-year-old also visited Accumoli, where a building collapsed following the quake, and Arquata del Tronto, where homes were reduced to rubble.

The Pope confirmed his intention to visit Amatrice on Sunday, but did not specify when he would arrive.

Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke posted a photograph on Twitter of Pope Francis after he was approached in his car by a local resident who wanted to show her appreciation for his visit.

Gerard O'Connell, an Irish journalist living in Rome, posted a tweet quoting Pope Francis as saying: "I am close to you, I pray for you."