A moderate earthquake shook eastern Sicily early Thursday, killing 19 people and injuring about 200, panicking thousands and destroying part of a small town, officials said.
Worst hit was Carlentini, a town of 10,000 people between Catania and Syracuse, where members of five families were killed when their homes crumbled on top of them as they slept.
The quake struck at about 1:30 a.m. and registered a magnitude of 4.7, the Ministry of Civil Protection reported. It was followed by dozens of aftershocks during the day.
"There was a huge roar all of a sudden. Everything shook," said Sebastiano Valvo, an employee at the Syracuse prefect's office.
Thirteen bodies were pulled from the rubble in Carlentini. They included two elderly couples; a woman, her two daughters and two grandchildren; a 32-year-old bar owner, and a couple and their 18-month-old daughter.
The bar owner's wife died of her injuries in the hospital in Lentini.
In addition, four elderly people from the Catania area and one person from Niscemi, west of Syracuse, died of heart attacks after the quake, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
A rescue worker in Carlentini told ANSA that he found the bodies of Sebastiano Musumeci, his wife Francesca and their 18-month-old daughter Veronica together.
"They're all hugging in a big bed," the unidentified worker was quoted as saying. "Maybe they were in such a deep sleep that they didn't even understand what happened. Let's hope it was like that."
The couple's 5-year-old son Rosario escaped.
About 200 people were injured, the Italian news agency AGI said. The quake caused at least $400 million in damage, according to the prefect's office in Syracuse.
Up to 2,500 people were left homeless by the quake, said the Civil Protection Ministry.
Rescue crews dug through wreckage under a driving rain to try to find survivors.
In Carlentini, officials said they will set up a huge tent on the village sports field to shelter some of the 1,300 people left homeless. Two neighborhoods were badly damaged and at least five people were seriously injured.
In other cities and towns along the coast, chunks of concrete were shaken off buildings.
The quake's epicenter was in the Gulf of Noto about 30 miles southeast of Syracuse.