SANT'AGOSTINO DI FERRARA, Italy -- Cheese producer Oriano Caretti woke up to the shaking earth, and then to the roar of 30,000 86-pound wheels of Parmesan cheese crashing to the ground in the warehouse next to his home.

The 6.0-magnitude quake north of Bologna that killed seven people and toppled centuries-old buildings also caused enormous damage to the region's world-renowned cheese production. The Coldiretti Italian farm lobby said 400,000 wheels of Parmesan and Grana Padano cheese were damaged when the racks where they are aged collapsed.

Total agriculture losses, including lost cheese, felled livestock and damaged machinery, are estimated at $254 million in the agricultural Po River Valley.

"Considering that what you see here represents the work of seven companies for two years, this means that the repercussions on the rural economy of these farms and this territory will feel it pretty badly," Caretti said yesterday in the cheese factory, where wood shelves were still collapsed. Only one rack of 16 remained standing.

The quake struck at 4:04 a.m. Sunday, when most residents in the quake zone were asleep. Residential buildings in an area unaccustomed to quakes largely withstood the temblor.

But factories in the region were at work despite the economic crisis that has sent Italy into recession and despite the hour, and many collapsed. Four of the seven dead were overnight workers buried in rubble, including two at the Ceramica Sant'Agostino tile company. The other three victims -- including a German tourist and an Italian centenarian -- died of heart attacks or other health conditions brought on by fear.

Many landmarks suffered considerable damage, including the city hall of Sant'Agostino and the 13th century clock tower of Finale Emilia, which was split vertically in half.

"The historic center has completely collapsed. I would have never imagined that such a thing could happen in Finale," said Stefano Pignatti, a town resident. The last big quake to hit the region was in the 1300s.

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