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Hundreds evacuated after 4.4 magnitude quake in southern Italy

MILAN (AP) – A women’s prison near Naples was evacuated as a precaution yesterday following a 4.4 magnitude quake with an epicentre at an active volcano west of the southern Italian port city that forced hundreds of residents to sleep in tents or cars. No injuries and only minor damage was reported following the Monday evening temblor.

The quake was the strongest in recorded history around the Phlegraean Fields, a sprawling area of ancient volcanic centres near the Tyrrhenian Sea in a zone that encompasses western neighbourhoods of Naples and its suburbs, said a volcanologist of Italy’s INGV National Geophysics and Volcanology Center Giuseppe De Natale.

Some 140 inmates at a women’s prison in the Pozzuoli suburb were evacuated while officials checked the structure for damage. A dozen apartment buildings also were evacuated for structural checks, displacing about 40 families, RAI state TV reported.

Some 150 smaller tremors overnight kept the population on edge. At least 500 people slept in tent cities erected by the civil protection agency, while others stayed in cars. Major traffic jams were reported as people tried to flee the area.

The area around the Phlegraean Fields is both seismically and volcanically active. The surface has been pushed up 1.3 metres since 2006, which is higher than prior to the last major event in 1984, but De Natale emphasised it was impossible to predict when an eruption or stronger quake might occur.

People gather in a street after an earthquake in Campi Flegrei, near Naples, Italy. PHOTO: AP