23 May 2012

State of emergency declared in northern Italy

12:08 pm on 23 May 2012

Italy has declared a state of emergency and promised more help for northern regions hit by an earthquake.

At least seven people died and thousands fled their homes when the magnitude 6.0 earthquake occurred at 4am on Sunday at a depth of 10km, destroying houses, factories and historic buildings.

About 5000 people are still sheltering in tents and other makeshift accommodation.

Conditions have been made more difficult by unseasonally cold weather in northern Italy.

Prime Minister Mario Monti says it is vital to restore some of the most economically productive parts of the country.

The government will suspend property taxes on damaged factories and homes, and encourage banks to step up lending to affected companies.