TOKYO - Japan issued a tsunami warning Wednesday and told Pacific coast residents to flee to higher ground after a powerful earthquake hit off sparsely populated islands to the north.
Japanâ€™s meteorological agency initially predicted that a 6Â½-foot tsunami would hit the Pacific coast of Japanâ€™s northernmost island of Hokkaido and main island of Honshu after 9:10 p.m. (7:10 a.m. EST).
A 16-inch wave hit the port of Nemuro on Hokkaido at 9:29 p.m., and live footage from the area showed calm seas.
The agency warned that larger waves could follow.
Before the tsunami struck, an official from the town of Shibetsu on Hokkaido, Kiyoshi Takimoto, told public broadcaster NHK that about 4,000 of the townâ€™s 6,100 residents lived along the coast and had been told to flee to higher ground.
Takimoto said he didnâ€™t notice the quake. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, according to NHK.
In the city of Kushiro, fire department and city officials were urging residents to move to safety, city official Masatoshi Sato said.
Keiichi Kimura, a Hokkaido Prefectural police officer, said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the quake. Railway officials ordered local trains on Hokkaido to stop at nearby stations as a precautionary step, NHK said.
Advisory issued for Hawaii
A tsunami advisory was issued for Hawaii, where the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat of a destructive wave.
Cindy Preller, an official with the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, said no tsunami was expected to hit the West Coast of North or South America. She said there was a slight chance one could hit the western Aleutian Islands.
The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 8.1 struck about 245 miles east of the island known in Japan as Etorofu, about 110 miles northeast of Hokkaido, at 6:15 a.m. EST, according to the Japanese meteorological agency.
Etorofu is one of four islands claimed by both Japan and Russia. It is known in Russia as Iturup. The chain of islands is known in Russia as the Kurils and in Japan as the Northern Territories.
The islands were occupied by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II. They are surrounded by rich fishing waters and are believed to have promising offshore oil and natural gas reserves. They also have gold and silver deposits. But the population has plummeted to just 9,900, according to official statistics.
A Russian official said a powerful earthquake had struck the Kuril Islands area and there was no immediate word of damage or casualties.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported on its Web site that a 7.8-magnitude quake had been detected 275 miles east-northeast of the Kurils at a depth of 17.2 miles. Temblors of magnitude 7 are generally classified as major earthquakes, capable of widespread, heavy damage.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami warning had been issued for Russia and Japan.
Potentially deadly waves
A magnitude 9.1-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia on Dec. 26, 2004 caused a tsunami that killed at least 213,000 people in 11 countries. Those waves reached as high as 33 feet.
Tsunami waves, which are generated by earthquakes, are often barely noticeable in the ocean but can rise to great heights once they arrive at shore.
Japan is one of the worldâ€™s most earthquake-prone countries because it sits atop four tectonic plates.
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