Japan issues tsunami warning

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Residents along Japan's Pacific coast were told to flee an impending tsunami after a powerful earthquake with preliminary magnitude 8.1 hit the Kuril islands north of Japan.

The quake struck about 390 kilometres east of the Etorofu islands, north of Japan, at 1115 GMT, according to Japan's Meteorological Agency, which issued a tsunami warning 15 minutes later.

A tsunami of about 2 metres or more could hit the Pacific coast of Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido and main island of Honshu after 1210 GMT, the agency warned.

Live video from Nemuro, a port on Hokkaido, showed calm seas and there were no immediate reports of any tsunami there. There were also no immediate reports of injuries or damage caused by the quake, which residents said could barely be felt in Japan.

Authorities have ordered residents living along the northern and eastern coasts of Hokkaido to evacuate to higher ground, according to public broadcaster NHK.

In the city of Kushiro on Hokkaido island, fire department and city officials were urging residents to move to safety, city official Masatoshi Sato said.

Keiichi Kimura, a Hokkaido Prefectural (state) police officer, said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the quake. Railway officials ordered trains on Hokkaido to stop at nearby stations as a precaution, NHK said.

The government set up an emergency task force at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office, officials said.

The US Geological Survey reported on its Web site a 7.8 magnitude quake centered 443 kilometres east-northeast of the Kuril Islands at a depth of 27.7 kilometres.

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.

A tsunami advisory was issued for Hawaii, where the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat of a destructive wave there. However, Cindy Preller of the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska said earlier that no tsunami was expected to hit Hawaii or the west coast of North or South America. Preller said there is a slight chance one could hit the western Aleutian Islands off the US state of Alaska.

A magnitude 9.1-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia on 26 December, 2004 caused a tsunami that killed at least 213,000 people in 11 countries. Walls of water went as high as 30 metres along Indonesia's Sumatra island, the hardest hit by the tsunami.

A magnitude 7.7 earthquake off Indonesia's Java island in July this year, triggered a tsunami, which pummeled a 300 kilometre stretch of coastline, destroying houses, restaurants and hotels. The two-metre -high waves tossed boats, cars and motorbikes hundreds of metres inland.

Nadezhda Lashkova, a duty officer at Russia's seismic monitoring station in Obninsk, near Moscow, said a powerful earthquake struck near the Kurils. There was no immediate word of damage or casualties. Lashkova said she did not believe there were any towns close to the quake's epicentre.