SAN FELICE SUL PANARO: A strong earthquake on Tuesday rocked northeastern Italy, killing at least 16 people and injuring 350 just days after another quake in the same region wrought death and destruction.
One woman was pulled out alive from the rubble in the town of Cavezzo Tuesday evening, officials said.
Rescuers spent the day combing through the debris for the one person Italy's civil protection authority said was still missing at nightfall after a series of strong quakes that caused widespread panic among residents.
Authorities said the region was struck between 1056 GMT and 1101 GMT by three tremors of between 5.1 and over 5.3 magnitude, following a 5.8 magnitude quake just after 0700 GMT when people were heading into work.
“Everything’s collapsed, it’s chaos, buildings across the town are down,” a fireman in the tiny town of Cavezzo told Corriere della Sera newspaper.
The first quake struck about 60 kilometres east of Parma, according to the Geographical Institute of Modena, and sent panicked residents rushing into the streets in quake-struck cities including Pisa and Venice.
The civil protection authority late Tuesday updated the quake’s toll to 16 people killed and around 350 injured as authorities warned that more aftershocks were possible in upcoming days.
“The sequence (of aftershocks) will be long and we cannot rule out that other strong quakes could happen,” said Stefano Gresta, the head of the country's national institute of geophysics and volcanology (INGV).
Tuesday’s quakes followed a 6.0 magnitude quake in the industrial northeast on May 20 which killed six people and left thousands in makeshift tent dwellings, with many homes and historic buildings reduced to rubble.
“Everything was shaking, we ran out into the streets. The roads are now blocked by people trying to flee the centre in case there's an aftershock,” Corriere della Sera reporter Elvira Serra said from the small town of Cento.
Historic chapels, churches and buildings damaged in the first quake crumbled to the ground as people joined those already camping out in blue tent camps set up in parks and school playgrounds after the last quake.
Over 5,000 people were evacuated from their homes and emergency places for 4,000 homeless would be ready by nightfall, the Emilia Romagna region said.
“Last night was the first night we’d spent back in our homes after the first quake. Then another one hit,” one resident told SKY TG24 television in Sant'Agostino, scattered with buildings with gaping holes.
A parish priest in the town of Rovereto di Novi was killed by a falling beam, reportedly after he went back into his church to save a Madonna statue.
Several victims were workers crushed when factories collapsed, including Italian, Moroccan and Indian factory workers in San Felice del Panaro.
“I'm grief-stricken, speechless. I have no tears left to shed.... Everything happened so fast, in about seven to eight seconds. I saw everything begin to crumble,” said a worker called Daniel, who had known the three victims.
Dust filled the air in the picturesque towns of Carpi and Concordia, while in Mirandola rubble covered the Duomo floor and the roof gaped open to the sky.
In Mantua, the Ducal Palace, famous for a stunning collection of frescoes in the Wedding Room, was damaged, along with a number of historic churches.
Pope Benedict XVI sent his condolences to the families of the victims.
Tuesday's quake was felt throughout northern and central Italy, causing the collapse of houses and schools structures weakened by the quake nine days ago and sparking fresh fear among already jittery citizens.
In Pisa, home of the famous leaning tower, offices were evacuated as a precautionary measure. People ran out into the streets from shops and offices in Milan, Bologna and the Aosta Valley, close to the French border.
There were moments of panic in Venice, where a statue fell to the ground, lightly injuring a passerby.
Workers for Italian auto makers Ferrari, Ducati and Lamborghini were evacuated from their factories as a precautionary measure and all schools in the affected region were set to remain closed on Wednesday.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti promised that “the state would do everything it must do as quickly as possible to guarantee the return of normal life in this important region of Italy.”
Around 7,000 people who fled their homes in northeast Italy in the quake over a week ago are still living in around 89 tent camps erected in fields, sports fields, car parks and schools.
The region has been hit by a series of quakes and aftershocks over the past two weeks. Authorities have registered at least 800 tremors since May 20.
The latest disasters struck just over three years after a 6.3-magnitude quake devastated the city of L'Aquila in central Italy in March 2009, killing some 300 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.