A powerful earthquake killed at least 15 people as it rocked a swath of northern Italy on Tuesday. Factories and churches collapsed, dealing another blow to a region where thousands are still homeless after a stronger quake just nine days ago.

The 5.8 magnitude quake added to the misery being felt in the Emilia Romagna region of towns north of Bologna, one of Italy's most agriculturally and industrial protective areas. The quake hit just after 9 a.m. with an epicentre 40 km northwest of Bologna, according to the U.S. Geological Survey — just a few km away from where the deadly May 20 quake was centred.

The quake was felt from Piedmont in northwestern Italy to Venice in the northeast. It was followed by many aftershocks, some registering more than 5.0 in magnitude.

While Tuesday's quake was about 100 times less intense than the 6.0 temblor on May 20, its death toll was more than twice the earlier quake's toll of seven. In a hastily called news conference, Premier Mario Monti pledged the government would do “all that it must and all that is possible in the briefest period to guarantee the resumption of normal life in this area that is so special, so important and so productive for Italy.”

The region around Bologna is among the country's most productive. Italy is desperately in need of its industries, for the country is in the midst of another recession and struggling to tame its massive debt as the European debt crisis worsens.

When the quake hit, Mr. Monti was meeting with emergency officials in Rome to discuss the impact of the earlier quake, which struck in the middle of the night and left at least 7,000 homeless.

The May 20 quake was described by Italian emergency officials as the worst to hit the region since the 1300s. In addition to the deaths, it knocked down a clock tower and other centuries-old buildings and caused millions in losses to a region known for making Parmesan cheese.

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