Northeast Italy has been hit by one of the worst earthquakes in hundreds of years.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-6.0 quake struck around 4 in the morning local time and was centered about 22 miles north of Bologna.
Emergency officials say at least four people have been killed. All were factory workers on the overnight shift who died as buildings collapsed in three separate locations. They also say two women died shortly after the quake, apparently of heart attacks possibly sparked by fear.
The tremor sent residents running into the streets and left bell towers cracked, chunks of church facades lying in the streets, and roofs caved in.
In his traditional Sunday appearance from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict said he was "spiritually close" to those affected by the quake, and asked people to join him in prayers to God for mercy for the dead and relief for the wounded.