Italy quake homeless in emergency shelters

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Media captionThe BBC's Alan Johnston says tents have been set up on a football pitch to provide shelter to those left homeless by the quake

Thousands of people left homeless by a powerful earthquake in northern Italy have spent the night in shelters as aftershocks continue to hit the region.

At least seven people died and more than 50 were injured when the quake struck in the early hours of Sunday.

The magnitude six tremor, centred north of Bologna, destroyed or badly damaged many historic buildings.

Italian officials say the priority is to find safe accommodation for an estimate 3,000 displaced people.

Civil protection officials in the town of Finale Emilia organised the setting up of tents on a football pitch to accommodate hundreds of residents.

Many had seen their homes destroyed but others were simply too afraid to return home.

"The current situation is really tense but not dramatic," said co-ordinator Diego Gottarelli.

"People are obviously afraid of staying inside their homes so we are setting up these emergency camps to let them spend the night and maybe some days in a safe environment, until these earthquakes finally stop. We are trying to make the citizens feel safe."

One woman said she just wanted her elderly parents to have shelter for the night.

"We are going to sleep in the car, it is not a problem for us. The important thing is that they (Civil Protection authorities) finish setting up the camp so that my parents can go inside," she said.

A 5.1 magnitude aftershock struck Sunday afternoon, destroying several buildings already weakened.

One firefighter was seriously injured after falling from a wall in Finale Emilia.

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

Its epicentre was between the towns of Finale Emilia, San Felice sul Panaro and Sermide, about 35km (20 miles) north of the city of Bologna.

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

Italian TV showed many historic buildings reduced to rubble. Cars lay crushed under fallen masonry.

The roof of a recently renovated sixteenth-century chapel in San Carlo, near the city of Ferrara, collapsed, leaving statues of angels exposed to the elements.

Architect Claudio Fabbri told AFP news agency that the restoration had taken eight years, adding despondently: "Now there's nothing left to do."

Firefighters in Finale Emilia rescued a five-year-old girl from the rubble of a house after a series of phone calls between a local woman, a family friend in New York and emergency services, AP news agency reported.

Image caption This clock tower in Finale Emilia was damaged in the quake and totally destroyed in an aftershock

Officials said that warehouses storing more than 300,000 wheels of Parmesan and Grana Padano cheese - with an estimated value of more than 250m euros (£200m; $320m) - also collapsed.

Stefano Berni, head of a consortium that protects the Grana Padano designation, told Ansa news agency: "It's a very heavy loss, but there have been no casualties, which is a great relief."

The victims included two workers at a ceramics factory in Sant'Agostino.

Another person - believed to be a Moroccan national - died in Ponte Rodoni do Bondeno and a worker in Tecopress di Dosso died when the roof of a foundry collapsed, local media reported.

Three women were also reported to have died as a result of heart attacks or other illness induced by the tremors.

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

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

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