At least three dead in Italian earthquake

A strong earthquake rocked a large swathe of northern Italy causing at least three deaths and collapsing rural factories and ancient bell towers in towns.

The epicentre of the quake, which struck at 4.04am local time and had a magnitude of 5.9, was in the plains near Modena.

One person working a night shift died in the collapse of a factory and two others were killed in the collapse of another building. Rescue officials were checking reports that other people were buried under rubble.

Thousands of people in the area rushed into the streets after the quake, felt in the major towns of Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Rovigo, Verona and Mantua.A series of strong aftershocks hit the area and local mayors ordered residents to stay out of their homes.

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Six dead in Italian quake

An earthquake in northern Italy has killed at least six people.