ROME — Hundreds of Italians were spending Sunday night in tents and temporary shelters after an earthquake early in the day struck in the north of their country, killing at least four people, injuring dozens and sending 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. At least one tremor was felt by residents around 1 a.m., but the fatal quake hit shortly after 4 a.m.
Four men working the night shift in factories in the Ferrara area were killed, two of them when the roof of a ceramics factory caved in. In addition, Italian news reports cited the quake in the deaths of two women apparently due to heart attacks.
The quake left hundreds of people homeless. Some were expected to seek shelter in tents set up by the Civil Protection Agency, others in sports arenas and others in homes of relatives and neighbors. Rain in the area made the situation all the more difficult.
Alessandro Amato, an earthquake expert at the Rome-based National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, told Sky Italia television that the epicenter was in the Padania plains, an area that had not been noted as a potentially dangerous spot on the quake-prone Italian peninsula.
Dozens of aftershocks followed, the most severe at magnitude 5.1, according to news reports.
The Rome daily La Repubblica reported that a 5-year-old girl in Finale Emilia was pulled 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 14th century Castello delle Rocche lay in rubble and an emblematic clock tower was shorn in half vertically, leaving only the Roman numerals VII, VIII, IX, X and XI on the clock’s face.
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 greeting in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI said that he was “spiritually close to those affected by this calamity.”
-- Sarah Delaney
Photo: The damaged medieval clock tower of Finale Emilia, Italy on Sunday, following the magnitude 6.0 earthquake that shook northern Italy early in the day. Credit: Gianfilippo Oggioni, Lapresse / Associated Press.