A 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook a large swath of northern Italy on Tuesday morning, killing at least 15 people and bringing down buildings already damaged by a quake that hit the area nine days ago.
The tremors, which were felt as far away as Austria, were centred 25 miles (40km) north-west of Bologna, near Mirandola, close to where a 6-magnitude quake struck in the early hours of 20 May, killing seven.
The latest quake struck at 9am when many more local factories were open a likely reason for the higher death toll.
At least one employee at a factory in Mirandola was reported dead after the building collapsed the day after it reopened following the earlier quake. In the same town a person was also killed when a house fell down.
In Rovereto sul Secchia a priest was killed by a falling beam when his church partially collapsed on him. Father Ivo Martini was visiting the church, which had been damaged in the earlier quake, to see if he could salvage a statue of the Madonna.
In Cavezzo, where a number of industrial buildings damaged on 20 May came down, a woman reportedly died in a furniture factory. Two cheesemakers were injured when large wheels of Grana Padano cheese fell from shelves.
Deaths were also reported in San Felice sul Panaro, Concordia and Finale Emilia. A woman in Rolo was in a serious condition after leaping from a second floor window.
In Cavezzo's old city centre several buildings and the back half of the city church were reduced to rubble. Tents had been set up near the town's sports complex and cots laid out in the tennis courts. Frightened residents sat or stood outside their homes, unsure of their next steps.
"I ran out of the fruit and vegetable store where I work as everything was falling off the shelves," said Marzia Dondi, 42, as she stood outside her home with her two sons, aged 15 and nine. "We haven't slept inside since last Sunday's quake. We're afraid to go back in. What a disaster. We were finally starting to calm down."
When the quake hit Maurizio Bruschi ran to rescue his mother and several other elderly residents from a nursing home. "I saw dust and smoke coming up from the factories and warehouses on the edge of town," Bruschi said. "Many told themselves that the worst was over. But we keep getting hammered. Tonight I am sleeping in my tent again."
Many locals were asking whether recent reports of gas drilling in the area might have contributed to instability of the area. Emergency workers directing traffic warned passersby not to smoke.
In the tent cities instructions were written in both Arabic and Italian, taking into consideration the large immigrant population of this industrial area.
Rescuers were searching through collapsed structures in Cavezzo, Medolla and Mirandola as dozens of aftershocks were registered throughout the region, five of which were above four in magnitude.
A castle in the town of Finale Emilia, which was damaged on 20 May, reportedly suffered further damage on Tuesday. The roof of the cathedral in Mirandola collapsed.
Thousands of locals have been living in tents and temporary accommodation since the first quake, afraid or unable to return to their homes.
On Tuesday the Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, asked people in the earthquake zone to "have faith" in rescue services. In Bologna authorities were phoning up to 12,000 elderly residents individually to offer advice as aftershocks continued.
"The fact that workers are again dying in these new shocks makes me think that factories were not rendered safe before sending people back to work," said Susanna Camusso, head of the CGIL union.
Experts have said the area was not considered at risk of seismic activity until studies were carried out in 2004.
In Parma a football friendly between Italy and Luxembourg due to be held on Tuesday evening was called off. Ferrari sent employees home from its car assembly line in Maranello "to allow them to reach their families".
Schools were evacuated across Emilia Romagna, but also in Florence. A hospital was reportedly evacuated in Modena and train services at Bologna were delayed for checks to be made to the lines.
People in Bologna rushed into the street at the moment of the quake, which was felt in Milan, Genoa and in the Veneto and Trentino regions. A statue in Venice collapsed as the quake struck.
Andrea Vogt in Cavezzo and Tom Kington Rome
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 29 May 2012 10.23 EDT
I've never heard of earthquakes in Italy, but Italy is on a fault line. Fortunately, the UK is not.