The 6.0 temblor struck in the middle of the night local time, with an epicenter about 35 kilometers north of the city of Bologna, in the Emilia Romagna area of northern Italy. The strong quake sent thousands of panicked citizens into the streets and plazas, many wearing their bed clothes. The quake was felt as far away as Milan and Venice.
The death count so far stands at six, with most of the victims killed by falling masonry and other debris from buildings. Two people were killed in the village of Sant'Agostino when a ceramics factory collapsed. This is the strongest earthquake to hit Italy since the 2009 L'Aquila quake, which killed over 300 people.
A historic church at Buonacompra was destroyed as well as the Finale Emilia bell tower, which was sent crashing to the streets below, crushing several vehicles. A 15th-Century castle in San Felice sul Panaro popular with tourists was also severely damaged.
Several strong aftershocks have been registered since the initial quake, setting the residents further on edge. Witnesses say the shaking from the original quake lasted for at least a minute, ringing church bells throughout the region. Emergency officials ordered the evacuation of patients from local hospitals near to the epicenter of the powerful quake.