​Firefighters in Italy freed a seven-month-old baby and his two older brothers from rubble early Tuesday following a 4.3-magnitude quake on the resort island of Ischia off Naples.

Firefighters dug with their bare hands to get the eldest brother, Ciro, about two hours after they freed his younger brother, Mattias, and eight hours after they removed the infant Pasquale. Firefighters announced the final success with a tweet: "Even Ciro is saved!" TV cameras recorded cheers going up.

'Unfortunately, what we had denounced, happened last night.' — Aldo De Chiara, former Naples prosecutor

Pasquale was wearing a white onesie and appeared alert when rescuers pulled him out of the collapsed structure in hardest-hit Casamicciola at around 4 a.m.

The children's father told RAI state television that the boys were in a bedroom when the quake struck, while he and his wife were elsewhere in the house. The mother, who Italian media say is heavily pregnant, managed to escape through a window while rescuers helped the father.

Firefighter spokesperson Luca Cari said earlier they maintained voice contact with the older boys during the complex rescue operation to create an opening through the collapsed ceiling. The boys had been given bottles of water and a flashlight.

At least two people were killed in the quake that struck just before 9 p.m. local time Monday. Another 39 were injured and some 2,600 were left homeless.

The quake was measured at magnitude 4.3 by the United States Geological Survey, up from initial readings of 4.0.

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Rescue workers check a collapsed house after the earthquake. (Ciro De Luca/Reuters)

Questions about construction

The quake hit during the height of the tourist season, and Italian television showed many visitors taking refuge in parks following the quake. Authorities began organizing ferries to bring tourists back to the mainland early Tuesday.

Together with the nearby island of Capri, Ischia is a favourite island getaway for the European jet set, famed in particular for its thermal waters. Casamicciola was the epicenter of an 1883 earthquake that left more than 2,000 dead.

Images from the quake zone show many buildings collapsed into rubble, while others showed signs of structural damage with deep cracks in exterior walls. Cars were overturned.

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People sleep in the street early on Tuesday morning. The quake hit during the height of the tourist season, and Italian television showed many visitors taking refuge in parks. (Ciro De Luca/Reuters)

The extent of the damage for a relatively light quake raised questions about the quality of construction on the island in the seismically active area off Naples and the active volcano, and the prevalence of illegally built structures.

Fabrizio Pistolesi, the head of Italy's national architecture advisory board, told Sky News that many buildings on the island were built before seismic codes were adopted. He also cited the high incidence of illegal construction on Ischia and generally in the Campagna region that includes both the resort island and Naples.

"We know well that in Campagna, more than 200,000 homes were illegally constructed, we are talking about homes constructed in absolute scorn of seismic norms," he said. 

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Rescue workers carry a child after an earthquake hit the island of Ischia in Naples on Tuesday. (Ciro De Luca/Reuters)

Former Naples prosecutor Aldo De Chiara told Corriere della Sera that most of the recently constructed buildings on Ischia were built without necessary permits, and many with poor quality cement. "We warned about the risk of collapses also in the case of not particularly serious temblors," De Chiara said. "Unfortunately, what we had denounced, happened last night."

The head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, Angelo Borrelli, told reporters that 2,000 people had been left homeless in Casamicciola and another 600 in Lacco Ameno. He said authorities were checking the stability of hotels to see if they could be used as temporary housing.

The quake came just two days shy of the one-year anniversary of a 6.2-magnitude earthquake that devastated several towns in central Italy. The quake on Aug. 24, 2016, left more than 250 people dead in Amatrice and beyond, and set off a months-long series of powerful aftershocks that emptied many towns and hamlets of their people. 

With files from CBC News