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Sicily rocked by earthquake

Police examine masonry broken off Saint Ann's Church in Palermo, Sicily
Police examine masonry broken off Saint Ann's Church in Palermo, Sicily  

SICILY, Italy -- A strong earthquake has rocked the southern Italian island of Sicily, leaving two people dead from heart attacks and three others injured.

In the capital, Palermo, and other towns on the western side of the island, people were sent running out into the streets in fear, when the quake hit at about 3:20 a.m. (0120 GMT), causing traffic jams when streets are normally deserted.

Several buildings in Palermo, were damaged in the quake, which was followed by several aftershocks.

The quake was one of two in the area, after a 5.4-magnitude quake hit the western Aegean Sea an hour earlier.

The Italian news agency ANSA said two elderly people died of heart attacks in Sicily as an indirect result of the quake.

The quake had its epicentre about 40 kilometres (about 25 miles) north-east of Palermo, in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

It was also felt in cities in the south of Italy's largest and most populous southern island, including Catania, Messina, Trapani, Agrigento, Enna, and Caltanissetta.

The USGS National Earthquake Center in Golden, Colorado, U.S. put the preliminary magnitude at 6.1.

The Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology put it at 5.6.

The initial quake lasted about 20 to 30 seconds, and was followed by two large aftershocks and several smaller ones.

One of the largest aftershocks was registered five hours after the initial one struck.

Mario Cerrone, an engineer with the Palermo department of civil protection said some buildings in Palermo's historic centre suffered some damage, with parts of the masonry falling off.

Three buildings with some of the heaviest damage were evacuated as a precaution, ANSA said.

Further east, in the western Aegean Sea, no-one was injured in a quake reported by the Athens Geodynamic Institute.

The quake, which occurred at 1:19 a.m., had a preliminary magnitude of 5.4 and was felt in Athens.

Its epicentre was under the seabed 70 miles north-east of the Greek capital, between the islands of Skyros and Evia, the institute said.

On Wednesday, two earthquakes were monitored off Greece -- the first near the Dodecanese Islands, measuring 4.5, and the second later in the day near Crete, measuring 4.4.


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