The mother and brother of an "adored" Hamilton kindergarten teacher who were killed in Italy's 6.2 magnitude earthquake, were asleep in their family home when the quake struck.
Veronica Grondona rushed back to Italy on Thursday with her husband Claudio Barbuzza, just hours after receiving the devastating news.
The couple had to leave behind their 15-year-old daughter Maia Barbuzza because of the uncertainty of the situation, as hundreds of aftershocks continue to rattle central Italy.
At least 250 people were killed and 360 injured in the 3.30am local time earthquake, which brought down hundreds of old buildings and homes across several cities and regions including Amatrice.
The deaths included Grondona's mother Anna Maria Masciolini, 68, and brother Luca Grondona, 35, who were holidaying at their home in Villa San Lorenzo, near Amatrice, about 90km from Rome.
Grondona, a teacher at Kindy Totz in Queenwood, first heard the tragic news late on Wednesday when her brother's body was discovered.
By Thursday morning her mother's body had also been found.
Grondona's sister Cristina who was based in Rome was faced with identifying the bodies.
Italian news site Tuscia Web reported Masciolini was an active and engaged member of the community.
Tributes were pouring in on social media.
Grondona's colleague and teaching supervisor Emma Shaw said the 37-year-old "just cried" when she revealed the news to friends in Hamilton.
"She's very heartbroken. I don't think she has been home in the last couple of years either so she hasn't seen her mother or brother for about two years."
Shaw said she had set up a Givealittle page to help Grondona and her family through the difficult time.
"She's the most generous, caring, loveliest person that I've ever met.
"The kids just adore her and because she's got that neat accent they think she's so cool."
Shaw said Grondona was popular among parents and a much-loved early childhood teacher who had graduated from Wintec in 2013.
She and her husband had settled in New Zealand with their daughter after years of travelling the world, Shaw said.
They loved New Zealand's lifestyle because it offered easy access to both winter and summer outdoor activities.
By this afternoon the Givealittle page had already raised $5500 which Shaw said was "amazing".
A heartfelt tribute from the rest of Grondona's colleagues was posted on Kindy Totz Facebook page.
"Our thoughts are with our Kindy Totz teacher Veronica who has suffered the terrible loss of her close family in the earthquake in central Italy.
"This tragic but distant disaster has suddenly become very real, close and personal to us here at kindy."
The post asked parents and well-wishers to donate if they could.
To donate visit https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/grondonafamily