A strong earthquake measuring 5.9 on Richter scale hit parts of northern Italy on Sunday at 4:04 a.m. local time, causing damage to historic buildings and collapse of rural structures that killed at least three, reports said.
The quake was centred 35km north-northwest of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of 10km, the US Geological Survey said.
Thousands of people living in the area rushed into the streets after the quake, which shook the major towns of Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Rovigo, Verona and Mantua.
One of the victim was working at night shift and died when the factory collapse, the other two were killed inside a ceramics factory when the earthquake hits them.
Rescuers are searching for other people rumoured to be buried in the rubble.
A series of strong aftershocks hit the area and local mayors ordered residents to stay out of their homes.