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Officials assess damage caused by Italy earthquake


Residents of a quake-hit area of north-east Italy have woken in their cars, tents and in school gyms as aftershocks continued following a 6.0 magnitude earthquake that killed seven people and toppled centuries-old buildings.

Officials were still assessing the damage a day after the strongest quake in hundreds of years hit the area, known for its famed Parmesan cheese.

Italian farm lobby group Coldiretti said some 200,000 huge, round cheeses were damaged, causing a 50 million euro loss to producers.

Emiglia Romana regional president Vasco Errani said that civil protection crews were checking government buildings, schools, businesses, homes, churches and other cultural heritage sites to evaluate the exact scale of damage and rebuilding costs.

"Unfortunately, the aftershocks are continuing and this is creating concern for the citizens," he said. "This is something we have to deal with because there is a psychological aspect to this. As a result, we're speeding up the checks on the buildings."

Premier Mario Monti, in Chicago for the Nato summit, was returning to Italy before the meeting ended because of the quake.

The quake struck yesterday morning, with its epicentre about 22 miles north of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of 3.2 miles. Civil protection agency official Adriano Gumina described it as the worst to hit the region since the 1300s.

Emergency crews set up tent camps in football fields and converted school gyms into reception centres to house some of the estimated 3,000 people who were either too afraid or unable to return home.

Resident Donatella Gadda spent the night in her car, too afraid to sleep at home even though civil protection officials said it was safe.

"Honestly I don't feel up to it, because you know I'm really afraid. I live on the second floor," she said as she returned home on Monday morning to get more blankets. "You have to walk down the stairs to get out (when a quake hits). That's the situation, it's dramatic."

Four factory workers on an overnight shift were killed when their buildings, in three separate locations, collapsed. Another three people were said to have died, apparently from heart attacks or other conditions, out of fear. Dozens were injured.

Nearly 12 hours after the quake, a sharp aftershock alarmed the residents of Sant'Agostino di Ferrara and knocked off a segment of the city hall's wall. The building had already been damaged by the pre-dawn quake, which left a gaping hole on one side.

The same aftershock knocked down most of the clock tower in the town of Finale Emilia, injuring a firefighter and leaving only half the clock affixed. The national geophysics institute assigned an initial magnitude of 5.1 to the aftershock.