FOGGIA, Italy (AP) _ A six-story apartment building in southern Italy collapsed into a pile of rubble before dawn today, burying scores of people. Authorities found nine bodies and feared dozens more residents could be dead.

Rescuers could hear just one faint voice under the rubble, and were working quickly in search of survivors. ``Every minute we lose could mean the end of someone's life,'' said Salvatore Distaso, president of the Puglia region, which encompasses the town of Foggia.

Between 70 and 75 people were in the building when it collapsed, said Capt. Antonio Di Spazio, of the paramilitary police. The death toll could reach 50 or more, he said. By late afternoon nine bodies had been pulled from the ruins, and 16 people were known to have survived.

Rescuers were trying to reach a young man named Angelo, whose voice they could hear from deep in the rubble.

``We have to proceed with much caution,'' Fire Chief Paola Moccia said. ``We're talking to him, he's asking for help, saying he's thirsty. We're trying to keep him calm.''

When residents woke during the night, they tried frantically to escape the building. Many may have died on the stairs, unable to get out in time as the building came down around them.

The superintendent, Luigi Laconta, 50, said a resident woke him and said the building was creaking. They ran, ringing doorbells to alert people.

``At this point I took a step back, thinking I would see someone stick their head out of a window,'' Laconta said. ``Instead, I saw the entire building crumple in front of me.''

``In the heart of the night I heard my bed shake, like an earthquake,'' said survivor Salvatore Taronna, 19, from his hospital bed. ``Then I heard creaking noises but I couldn't understand what was happening.''

``All of a sudden I found myself deep in chunks of cement,'' Taronna said. ``It was dark and I didn't have the strength to scream.''

Aldo Guidone said his son and daughter-in-law felt the floor tremble, then heard their doorbell ring. The next thing they knew, they were lying amid rubble. Their 8-year-old son is missing.

The fire chief said his department got a call from the building supervisor three minutes before the collapse.

According to Foggia Mayor Paulo Agostinacchio, 91 people lived in the 30-year-old building, but not everyone was at home.

He said experts suspected structural problems, adding that he planned to take the precaution of evacuating a neighboring apartment house built at the same time. ``Someone is going to have to explain how this happened,'' the mayor said.

In Rome, the Senate observed a minute of silence for the victims. Premier Massimo D'Alema and Interior Minister Rosa Russo Jervolino rushed to the scene. Pope John Paul II sent a condolence message.

The collapse reduced the apartment building, which was in a working class suburb, to a pile of rubble no more than one story high. The survivors included two adults and a boy, all residents of the top floor.

Nicola Crincoli told the ANSA news agency that she managed to dig her year-old nephew Antonio from the ruins.

``As soon as I saw his little hand in the rubble, I started digging,'' she was quoted as saying. ``I heard cries, and I screamed, and I threw myself on the rubble and started digging with my bare hands.''

Foggia, a city of 150,000 people, is 200 miles southeast of Rome in Puglia province.

A similar tragedy struck in Rome last December, when a five-story apartment building collapsed, killing 27 people. Investigators later attributed the collapse to structural problems.