A woman carrying her child stands on the street in front of the Town Hall building, damaged by an earthquake, on Sant' Agostino (Photo: Reuters)
Panicked people rushed into the streets when a powerful earthquake shook northern Italy early Sunday, killing three people and injuring at least 50, emergency services said.
The 5.9-magnitude quake struck around 0200 GMT and was felt throughout the northeast of the peninsula, from the Emilia-Romagna region to Venice, with its epicentre at Finale Emilia, 36 kilometres (22 miles) north of Bologna.
It took place at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles) and lasted around 20 seconds, followed by several aftershocks.
Earlier a 4.1-magnitude quake shook the Lombardy region around Milan, Italy's financial and business capital, and was felt in the historic cities of Modena, Mantua, Ferrara and Rovigo.
Rescue services said the three fatalities were workers on night shifts.
One man was killed when the workshop of a polystyrene factory collapsed at Ponte Rodoni di Bondeno, near Ferrara, and the two others in a ceramics factory at Sant-Agostino.
Another 50 people were lightly injured, none seriously, mostly in the Modena region.
In Bologna and several other cities thousands of people woken in the middle of the night by the tremor rushed out onto the streets in panic. Telephone switchboards of emergency services were inundated with calls.
First television footage showed half-collapsed houses with heaps of rubble on the roads. Several church steeples and towers also partly collapsed.
The region shaken by the quake is Italy's industrial heartland but also home to priceless architectural and art treasures. The historic centre of Ferrara is classified as a world heritage site.
Hospitals were evacuated as a precautionary measure.