The quake measured 8.2 on the Richter scale, according to the US Geological Survey in Colorado, which described it as the first 'great earthquake' of 1994. Japan's main earthquake centre measured it as a 7.9 tremor. The national television network, NHK, reported that 196 people had been injured so far on Hokkaido's east coast. Many isolated areas, particularly small islands close to the epicentre, were cut off from communications.
Hokkaido is the most-sparsely populated of Japan's four main islands. Tremors were felt strongly as far away as Tokyo, about 800km (500 miles) south. As many as 31 after-shocks hit Hokkaido more than three hours after the main quake struck.
The worst earthquake in Japanese history, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale, was in 1923 when 140,000 people were killed in Tokyo and nearby Yokohama. More than 560,000 homes were destroyed.
Thousands of people from coastal areas of Hawaii were also evacuated, as a tidal wave spawned by the earthquake raced toward the group of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Canada's west coast was also put on alert for waves caused by the quake. The space shuttle Endeavour was ordered to aim its radar at Japan, to assess any environmental damage.Reuse content