The magnitude 4.8 quake shook the north-west of the Sicily’s second-largest city, Catania, at around 2:30 am local time.

The quake was felt in nearby Syracuse, Enna, Ragusa and Messina, and was preceded by two smaller tremors at 2:14 am and 2:26 am.

A magnitude 2.5 aftershock was then felt just before 3:00 am.

The earthquake caused damage to old houses and historic buildings and churches in the area.

“Fortunately, the damage was limited to old houses, church cornices and walls of old masonry houses,” a spokesman for the Catania Fire Brigade said.

Italian daily La Repubblica reported that around 40 people were taken to hospital suffering from panic attacks or slight injuries.

Some terrified residents spent the night outdoors in fear of possible aftershocks.

“It was a long and emotional night,’’ Antonio Bonanno, the mayor of Biancavilla, wrote on Facebook.