Strong earthquake slams northern Italy

Cars are buried in rubble in Finale Emila after Sunday's earthquake in northern Italy. The magnitude-6.0 quake shook the region, killing at least five people, leaving thousands homeless.
Cars are buried in rubble in Finale Emila after Sunday's earthquake in northern Italy. The magnitude-6.0 quake shook the region, killing at least five people, leaving thousands homeless. (LUCA BRUNO / Associated Press)
Posted: May 21, 2012

ROME - An earthquake struck the northern Italian region of Emilia Romagna on Sunday, killing at least five people, injuring dozens, leaving thousands homeless and damaging historic buildings as well as warehouses and factories, officials said.

The earthquake, which the U.S. Geological Survey said had a magnitude of 6.0, crumbled church roofs and Renaissance-era towers, according to Italian television reports. Large cracks riddled apartment blocks in dozens of small towns. And Italy's national Civil Protection Department said that at least 3,000 had been left homeless.

Three men working the night shift in two different factories on the outskirts of the small town of Sant'Agostino died when the buildings in which they were working collapsed. Another was killed outside of Bondeno. Italy's National Civil Protection Agency said in a note that a woman had died of causes resulting from the shock of the quake.

The Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, who is in the United States for high-level meetings with leaders from the Group of 8 nations and NATO, said on Sunday that he would return to Italy ahead of time because of the emergency.

Many areas of Italy are considered to be at high risk for earthquakes. A quake in 1976 killed nearly a thousand people in Friuli Venezia Giulia, and almost 3,000 died in the Campania earthquake of 1980.

Three years ago, an earthquake in the area of L'Aquila, in central Italy, killed more than 300 people. While rebuilding has advanced in many villages in the region, the historic center of L'Aquila itself remains a ghost town and there has been public outcry over delays in reconstruction there.

But in Emilia Romagna, seismic events of this kind have been more rare. Gregori said that the last quake of this magnitude in the area was in the 14th century. "For man, seven centuries are a lot, for nature it is nothing," he said.

Aftershocks were felt in the region throughout Sunday. The main quake was felt throughout northern and central Italy, "for hundreds of kilometers, there was a considerable release of energy," said Stefano Gresta, a geophysicist and president of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

Gresta said that aftershocks could continue for days, "and we can't even exclude a significant quake like the one this morning," he said.

On Sunday afternoon, another tremor, initially measured at a magnitude of 5.1 by the USGS, caused further havoc, felling other structures, and hampering the work of rescue teams.

Areas in some of the hardest-hit towns, scattered across a vast swath of Italy's agricultural heartland, were cordoned off while officials expressed concern about the stability of some historic buildings.

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