ROME — An earthquake early Sunday in north-central Italy killed six people, injured dozens and sent parts of historic castles, clock towers and churches tumbling down.
Italian authorities said the earthquake in the area of Modena and Ferrara in the Emilia Romagna region registered a 6.0 magnitude on the Richter scale.
At least one tremor was felt by residents around 1 a.m., but the fatal quake hit shortly after 4 a.m. Four of the victims were men working the night shift in factories in the Ferrara area; two were killed when the roof of a ceramics factory caved in.
Two women, a 100-year-old and another 37, died of consequences from fright rather than injuries, according to Italian news reports.
Alessandro Amato, an earthquake expert at the Rome-based National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) told Sky Italia television that the epicenter was found in what is known as the Padania plains, an area that had not been noted as a potentially dangerous spot on the seismographically sensitive Italian peninsula.
The magnitude of the quake was less than that of the April 2009 earthquake that measured 6.3 and devastated the Italian city of L’Aquila and killed more than 300 people. Amato said that differences in the fault lines under the two areas also contributed to the fact that Sunday’s temblor caused much less destruction.
The Rome daily La Repubblica reported that a 5-year-old girl in Finale Emilia was pulled out from her collapsed home thanks to the quick thinking of a woman who, not being able to reach local rescue squads because of interrupted communications, called her doctor in New York who in turn was able to notify Italian authorities.
Damage to buildings was significant, especially in the towns of Sant’Agostino di Ferrara where the exterior wall of the town hall was ripped apart, and San Felice sul Panaro, where a 14th century fortified castle lost parapets and watchtowers.
In the town of Finale Emilia the towers of the the 14th century Casttello delle Rocche lay in rubble and an emblematic clocktower was shorn in half vertically, leaving only the Roman numerals VII, VIII, IX, X and XI on the clock’s face.
Amato said that aftershocks were to be expected over the following days and weeks, although he said it was impossible to predict whether another major quake was imminent.
Many farmhouses, barns and agricultural storage facilities were also damaged in surrounding rural zones.
Officials from the culture ministry said that in the coming days and weeks experts would assess the damage to the many artistic and architectural treasures that are found in this area with a particularly intense cultural history.
In his regular Sunday Angelus greeting in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI said that he was “spiritually close to those affected by this calamity.”
-- Sarah Delaney