A strong earthquake rocked a large swathe of northern Italy early on Sunday, killing at least three people and causing serious damage to the area's cultural heritage.
The 6.0 magnitude quake struck at 4:04 a.m.while most people were sleeping, and thousands ran into the streets in their night clothes in panic.
"I ran out in my underwear," one man told Italian television.
The epicentre of the quake, the strongest to hit Italy in three years, was in the plains near Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region of the Po River Valley, and the tremor was felt in nearby regions of Lombardy and Veneto.
One person, believed to be a Moroccan man working a night shift in a polyester factory, died when he was hit by falling debris. His shift was to have ended 56 minutes after the quake.
Two men, also working a night shift, were killed when part of a modern ceramics factory made of steel collapsed in the town of Sant' Agostino.
"He wasn't supposed to be there. He changed shifts with a friend who wanted to go to the beach," the mother of one of the victims told state television.
A woman believed to be a German was reported to have died after suffering a heart attack because of the quake, and several dozen people suffered minor injuries.
Rescue officials were checking reports that other people were buried under rubble and were preparing to house people whose dwellings had been damanged or destroyed.
There was serious damage to historic buildings and churches in the province of Modena.
One badly damaged building was the 14th century Estes Castle in the town of San Felipe Sul Pan, near the quake's epicentre.
There were fears that one of the towers of the famous mediaeval castle, the town's biggest attraction, could collapse. The town's main church was also severely damaged.
The quake also shook the major towns of Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Rovigo, Verona and Mantua. No serious damage was reported in the larger, heavily populated towns and cities.
A series of strong aftershocks hit the area, the strongest measuring 5.1, and local mayors ordered residents to stay out of doors.
The quake was centred 35 km north-northwest of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of 10 km, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The last major earthquake to hit Italy was a 6.3 magnitude quake in the central Italian city of L'Aquila in 2009, which killed nearly 300 people.
After that quake, then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi moved a G8 meeting that was to have been held in Sardinia to near L'Aquila as a show of solidarity with the victims.
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