Tsunami warnings in Japan after powerful quake

Updated: 2007-01-13 13:54
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Tokyo - Japan's Meteorological Agency issued tsunami warnings Saturday following a powerful 8.3 magnitude earthquake in the Pacific Ocean and officials ordered coastal residents to flee to higher ground.

The agency said waves as high as 3.3 feet could hit the northeastern coast of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido around 2 pm (12 am EST).

The quake struck around 1:24 pm about 310 miles east of Etorofu, the largest of a disputed four-island chain known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Kuril islands in Russia, the agency said.

The quake struck at a depth of 19 miles below the seabed, the agency said.

The US Geological Survey registered the earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.9, spokeswoman Clarice Ransom said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the quake, Hokkaido prefectural (state) police spokesman Shinji Yamakoshi said.

In addition to the highest alert for towns facing the east coast of Hokkaido, the agency also issued weaker warnings for dozens of other cities as far as the western region of Japan's Honshu main island facing the Pacific coast.

Public broadcaster NHK said no visible changes in the sea level had been observed past the predicted tsunami arrival time. The agency also predicted a tsunami as high as 1.65 feet could hit western Japan around 4 pm (2 am EST).

Temblors of magnitude 7 are generally classified as major earthquakes, capable of widespread, heavy damage.

Tsunami waves -- generated by earthquakes -- are often barely noticeable in the ocean but can rise to great heights once they arrive at shore.

On Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra island spawned giant waves that fanned out across the Indian Ocean at jetliner speeds, leaving at least 230,000 dead and millions of homeless in its wake.