Workers again among the victims as factories collapse in Italy’s latest deadly earthquake

SAN FELICE SUL PANARO, Italy — Workers at the small machinery company had just returned for their first shift following Italy’s powerful and deadly quake earlier this month when another one struck, collapsing the roof.

At least three employees at the factory — two immigrants and an Italian engineer checking the building’s stability — were among those killed Tuesday in the second deadly quake in nine days to strike a region of Italy that hadn’t considered itself particularly quake prone.

By late Tuesday, the death toll stood at 16, with one person missing : a worker at the machinery factory in the small town of San Felice Sul Panaro. Some 350 people also were injured in the 5.8 magnitude quake north of Bologna in Emilia Romagna, one of Italy’s more productive agricultural and industrial regions. Originally government officials had put the death toll at 17, and there was no immediately explanation for the lowered figure.

The injured included a 65-year-old woman who was pulled out alive by rescuers after lying for 12 hours in the rubble of her apartment’s kitchen in Cavezzo, another town hard hit by the quake. Firefighters told Sky TG24 TV that a piece of furniture, which had toppled over, saved her from being crushed by the wreckage. She was taken to a hospital for treatment.

The building had been damaged in the first quake, on May 20, and had been vacant since. The woman had just gone back inside it Tuesday morning to retrieve some clothes when the latest temblor knocked down the building, firefighters said.

Factories, barns and churches fell, dealing a second blow to a region where thousands remained homeless from the May 20 temblor, much stronger in intensity, at 6.0 magnitude.

The two quakes struck one of the most productive regions in Italy at a particularly crucial moment, as the country faces enormous pressure to grow its economy to stave off the continent’s debt crisis. Italy’s economic growth has been stagnant for at least a decade, and the national economy is forecast to contract by 1.2 percent this year.

The area encompassing the cities of Modena, Mantua and Bologna is prized for its super car production, churning out Ferraris, Maseratis and Lamborghinis; its world-famous Parmesan cheese, and less well-known but critical to the economy — its machinery companies.

Like the May 20 quake, many of the dead in Tuesday’s temblor were workers inside huge warehouses, many of them prefabricated, that house factories. Inspectors have been determining which are safe to re-enter, but economic pressure has sped up renewed production — perhaps prematurely.

Seven people were killed in the May 20 quake. In both, the dead were largely and disproportionately workers killed by collapsing factories and warehouses.

Co-workers of Mohamed Azeris, a Moroccan immigrant and father of two who died in the just-reopened factory, claim he was forced back to work as a shift supervisor or faced losing his job. A local union representative had demanded an investigation.

“Another earthquake — unfortunately during the day — that means people were inside working, so I think that an investigation will need to be opened here to check who cleared as safe these companies to understand who’s responsible for this,” Erminio Veronesi told The Associated Press.

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