An earthquake struck Sicily's eastern coast before dawn Thursday, killing at least nine people, collapsing buildings and sending panicked residents into the streets, officials and news reports said.

The quake struck at about 1:30 a.m. and registered 4.7 on the Richter scale, the Ministry of Civil Protection reported. The U.S. National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., measured it at 5.1.The Italian news agency ANSA said nine bodies had been recovered from the debris. The Ministry of Civil Protection said it could not immediately confirm the figure. It said earlier that five bodies had been recovered, and 11 other people were unaccounted for and feared buried under rubble.

At least 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.

Rescue crews were digging people out of collapsed buildings in a driving rain and making inspections in towns hit hardest by the quake. Many people spent the night in their cars, fearing further shocks.

The quake's epicenter was in the Gulf of Noto, about 30 miles southeast of Syracuse, said the National Institute of Geophysics.

Hardest hit appeared to be Carlentini, a town of 10,000 people between Catania and Syracuse.

Five bodies were found in Carlentini, where three old buildings collapsed, burying members of at least three families, ANSA reported. It said one was an 18-month-old girl, Veronica Musumeci. Two other people died of heart attacks after the quake struck, the agency said.

In Syracuse, one of the city's main streets was strewn with chunks of plaster that fell from buildings.

"There was a huge roar all of a sudden. Everything shook," said Sebastiano Valvo, an employee at the prefect's office, describing the moment the quake hit.

The mayor, Gaetano Bandiera, asked the region's prefect to proclaim a state of emergency.


(Additional information)

A strong earthquake shook a wide area of northeastern Taiwan Thursday, causing landslides and killing two construction workers, police said. The Central Weather Bureau said the quake registered 6.5 on the Richter scale and was centered on the coast six miles south of Hualien. Police in Hualien, the hardest-hit area, said one construction worker died after falling from the second story of the building and that a laborer fell off a scaffold and died.