At least 16 people died and 12 were missing after the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna was struck by a powerful earthquake, the second to hit the area in just 10 days.
Yesterday's 5.8-magnitude tremor caused buildings to collapse across the region, leaving more than 350 people injured and an estimated 14,000 homeless. The epicentre of the earthquake, which struck at 9am local time, was in the province of Modena, about 22 miles north-west of Bologna.
However, the shock was felt throughout northern Italy, with terrified people fleeing homes, schools and offices as far away as Milan and Venice. Train lines connecting Bologna with other northern cities were halted while authorities checked for damage. It was announced that schools in the city would remain closed tomorrow as a precaution.
Michele Camurati, the man leading the Red Cross rescue effort, said: "We are doing everything we can along with the emergency services to rescue people who may still be alive under collapsed buildings. The other priority is to take care of the weakest victims – children and the elderly."
Premier Mario Monti promised state aid for affected regions. "I guarantee that the state will do everything that it has to do, that it is possible to do, to ensure this very special, important and productive region for Italy can return to its normal life in a short period of time," he said.
While the quake was weaker than the one on 20 May, its death toll was more than twice as high. In both tremors workers died in collapsing factories and warehouses. And the region's many medieval buildings were badly hit.
Yesterday, in the town of Mirandola, near the epicentre, the church of San Francis crumbled, leaving only its façade standing. The main cathedral was also badly damaged. Elsewhere, it was reported that a parish priest had died after his church collapsed.
The Sant'Agostino town hall, so damaged in the 20 May quake that it looked as if it had been bombed, virtually collapsed when the latest tremor struck.
The employment Minister Elsa Fornero suggested that the questioned the level of death and destruction see yesterday was out of proportion to the magnitude of the quake.
"It is natural that the earth shakes. But it is not natural that buildings collapse," Ms Fornero told MPs in the lower house of Parliament.
Italy's National Institute of Geophysics said yesterday's quake was relatively shallow, occurring less than 10 miles below the ground. One of its seismologists, Dr Alessandro Amato, warned that aftershocks would probably continue "for several days".
Prior to this month, the last significant earthquake in the region was in 1501, with the tremor 10 days ago said to have been the most severe since the 1300s. Nevertheless, Harley Benz, a scientist in charge of the US Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Centre, said the twin disasters should not be seen as a total surprise.
"This is an area that is known to have earthquakes," he said, explaining that although the last one in the nearby Bologna region was back in 1929, it has experienced at least five previous significant earthquakes in recent centuries.