An 11th century bell tower collapsed onto houses in the northern Italian city of Pavia Friday and an unknown number of people were feared to have been hurt, a fire brigade spokesman said.

"We don't know but perhaps there are some dead," the spokesman told Reuters by phone.He said the bell tower, which had been closed to the public, had collapsed onto houses between the cathedral square and neighboring streets in the city, south of Milan.

Fire engines, ambulances and earthmoving equipment were rushed to the scene of the collapse in the center of Pavia, a city dating back to Roman times, 20 miles south of Milan.

A hospital doctor in Pavia said nine or 10 people had so far been admitted for treatment, all with slight injuries. But other ambulances were expected to arrive soon from the scene.

A police spokeswoman said the rubble from the collapse was as high as 30 feet in places. A newsstand had been completely crushed.

She said several parked cars hit by the rubble caught fire.

A local radio reporter in Pavia said from the scene of the collapse that two people had been located alive in the rubble and rescuers had dug holes to help them breath.

Dogs trained in earthquake rescue were sent to the city and extra firemen arrived from Milan.

Witnesses said a shoe shop and pharmacy had been hit by the rubble as well as the newsstand. The entire area around the cathedral was cordoned off by police.

A woman working in a nearby furs shop said: "There was a loud bang and a cloud of dust rose into the air."

Police said many passers-by had managed to run for cover because pieces of masonry began to fall from the tower before it collapsed.

The old bell tower, which was close to Pavia's cathedral, was more than 130 feet high and had been surrounded by barriers to prevent the public approaching too close after masonry fell last July.