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Powerful quake kills at least 4 in northern Italy

One of the strongest earthquakes to shake northern Italy rattled the region around Bologna early Sunday, a magnitude-6.0 temblor that killed at least four people, toppled buildings and sent residents running into the streets, emergency services and news reports said.

The quake struck at 4:04 a.m. Sunday between Modena and Mantova, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) north-northwest of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of 5 kilometers (3.2 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said.

It was one of the strongest quakes to shake the region, seismologists said, and initial television footage indicated that older buildings had suffered damage: roofs collapsed, church towers showed cracks and the bricks of some stone walls tumbled into the street. As dawn broke over the region, residents milled about the streets inspecting the damage.

News reports, citing emergency services, said three people were killed in Sant'Agostino di Ferrara when a ceramics factory collapsed. Another person was killed in Ponte Rodoni do Bondeno, ANSA said.

Italy's Sky TG24 showed images of the collapsed ceramics factory where the two workers were reportedly killed; the structure, which appeared to be a hangar of sorts, had twisted metal supports jutting out at odd angles amid the mangled collapsed roof.

"This is immense damage but the worst part is we lost two people," said Stefano Zeni, a worker in the factory.

SKY said two other people died of apparent heart attacks in the wake of the quake.

"It was a strong one, and it lasted quite a long time," said Emilio Bianco, receptionist at Modena's Canalgrande hotel, housed in an ornate 18th century palazzo. The hotel suffered no damage and Modena itself was spared, but guests spilled into the streets as soon as the quake hit, he said.

Many people were still awake at 4 a.m. and milling about town since it was a "white night," with stores and restaurants open all night. Museums were supposed to have remained open as well but closed following the bombing Saturday of a school in southern Italy that killed one person.

The epicenter was between the towns of Finale Emilia, San Felice sul Panaro and Sermide but was felt as far away as Tuscany and northern Alto Adige.

The initial quake was followed about an hour later by a 5.1-magnitude temblor, USGS said. And it was preceded by a 4.1-temblor.

In late January, a 5.4-magnitude quake shook northern Italy. Some office buildings in Milan were evacuated as a precaution and there were scattered reports of falling masonry and cracks in buildings.

In 2009, a devastating temblor killed more than 300 people in the central city of L'Aquila.