Six people died on Sunday, including a woman aged over 100, after an earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale hit northern Italy, the news agency ANSA reported.

The quake hit the region of Emilia-Romagna at 4:04 a.m. local time.

The epicentre was 36 kilometres north of the city of Bologna and had a depth of around 10 kilometres, according to the National Geophysical and Volcanic Institute.

Four people died when the factory buildings they were working in collapsed.

Two workers died in a ceramics factory in Sant’Agostino, near the city of Ferrara, while a third died at a metal-working factory in the same area. The fourth was killed in an industrial area in the town of Bondeno, around 15 kilometres from Sant’Agostino.

A 37-year-old German woman also died in Casale. She developed breathing difficulties, possibly because of a panic attack triggered by the earthquake, and lost consciousness, ANSA reported.

A woman aged over 100 was also found dead in Sant’Agostini, according to ANSA, possibly having died of shock.

It was still unclear how many people were injured, though the television station RAI put it at around 50.

Several aftershocks followed, one measuring 3.3, and thousands of people remained on the streets in the early morning, unwilling to return inside.

Television showed footage of collapsed buildings and churches, with rubble covering the streets. The worse hit were the towns of San Felice and Finale Emilia, were many historical buildings were severely damaged.

The earthquake was felt as far away as Milan and Venice, though no damage was reported.

Local elections scheduled in around 120 towns were still to go ahead, including in areas affected by the earthquake, RAI television reported.

The earthquake was almost as strong as that which hit Aquila in April 2009, killing nearly 300 people and leaving 60,000 homeless.

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