The quake hit Saturday just after 4 a.m. locally, about 22 miles north-northwest of Bologna, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The epicenter was between the towns of Finale Emilia, San Felice sul Panaro and Sermide but was felt as far away as Tuscany andnorthern Alto Adige.
Seismologists say it was one of the strongest quakes to hit the area. News reports, citing emergency services, said three people were reportedly killed when a ceramics factory collapsed. Two other people reportedly died from heart attacks in the wake of the quake.
Television footage showed older buildings had suffered damage: roofs collapsed, church towers showed cracks and the bricks of some stone walls tumbled into the street.
A magnitude-5.1 aftershock hit about an hour after the initial quake.
In late January, a 5.4-magnitude quake shook northern Italy. Some office buildings in Milan were evacuated as a precaution and there were scattered reports of falling masonry and cracks in buildings.
In 2009, a devastating temblor killed more than 300 people in the central city of L'Aquila.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.