Deadly northern Italy earthquake hits heritage sites

People were jolted out of their beds to seek the relative safety of streets

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An earthquake in northern Italy has killed at least seven people and caused serious damage to buildings in several towns, local officials say.

The magnitude-6.0 quake struck in the middle of the night, about 35km (22 miles) north of the city of Bologna.

The tremor caused "significant damage to the cultural heritage" of Emilia Romagna region, the government said.

Later on Sunday, a magnitude-5.1 aftershock hit the region, causing more buildings to collapse.

The aftershock destroyed a clock tower and made a firefighter fall from a wall in the town of Finale Emilia, near the epicentre of the first tremor.

At the scene

In one square, an old clocktower stood half-destroyed by the quake. A small crowd had gathered and was looking on at the ruin. Just as we joined them, another aftershock struck.

In front of us, what remained of the tower collapsed, tumbling down in a shower of bricks and timbers and sending a great cloud of dust rolling across the square.

With the situation still so unstable, many people were choosing to stay out in the relatively safety of the streets, not wanting to be trapped inside if there are going to be more tremors.

And there's particular concern about many of the older, weaker, historic buildings. A large number of them show signs of damage, and nobody knows quite how vulnerable they may be to more shocks.

Sunday's quake was the worst to hit the country since the L'Aquila tremor killed nearly 300 people in central Italy in 2009.

'Big bang'

The earthquake struck at a relatively shallow depth of 10km just after 04:00 local time (02:00 GMT).

It was felt across a large swathe of northern Italy, including the cities of Bologna, Ferrara, Verona and Mantua and as far away as Milan and Venice.

The tremor forced many terrified residents into the streets.

Two people were killed in Sant'Agostino when a ceramics factory collapsed.

The mother of one of the victims told local media that "he wasn't supposed to be there. He changed shifts with a friend".

Another person - believed to be a Moroccan national - was killed in Ponte Rodoni do Bondeno.

In Tecopress di Dosso, one worker died when the roof of a foundry collapsed, Rai News24 reports.

Local media say three women died as a result of illness induced by the tremors: a 37-year-old German national, near Bologna, who was said to have had a heart attack, a centenarian in Sant'Agostino and an octogenarian.

About 50 people were injured - but no-one seriously.

Northern Italy quake

map
  • Kills at least six and damages buildings across Emilia Romagna region
  • San Felice sul Panaro: 15th-Century castle severely damaged
  • Finale Emilia: bell tower collapses, crushing cars
  • Sant'Agostino: ceramic factory destroyed, killing two employees
  • Tecopress di Dosso: worker dies when a factory roof collapses
  • Buonacompra: historic church destroyed
  • Tremor also felt in cities of Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Rovigo, Verona, Mantua, Milan and Venice

More than 3,000 people were later evacuated from their homes amid fears of fresh tremors.

"I was woken at around 04:00 by the quake, it was strong and lasted up to a minute, maybe more," Frankie Thompson, a UK travel journalist in Bologna, told the BBC.

"Church bells were set off spontaneously... followed by an eerie silence. Small aftershocks kept coming and going until maybe 05:50 when a stronger tremor shook us again but not as long and dramatic as the first," she added.

Britain's David Trew, who is staying in a hotel in Ferrara, told the BBC: "I was sound asleep when the tremors started. I was having quite a vivid dream, and the first few seconds of the quake became part of the dream.

"As I began to wake up it took me a few seconds to realise that it was actually happening for real. I fumbled around in the darkness, now very scared. The room was shaking violently, plaster was dropping off the ceiling into my hair and all over the floor."

One local resident told Ansa: "I heard a big bang and I ran on the terrace, I was afraid of falling."

TV footage later showed people inspecting damaged houses, offices and historic buildings. Parts of a castle in Finale Emilia collapsed.

Emergency officials ordered the evacuation of patients from hospitals as a precautionary measure.

Northern Italy is frequently rocked by minor earthquakes, but the country is well-prepared to deal with them, the BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome reports.

In January, a magnitude-5.3 quake hit northern Italy but caused no injuries.

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