Thousands flee tsunami after huge earthquake

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The Independent Online

A powerful earthquake has struck off the north of Japan, triggering a series of small tsunamis and forcing thousands of families to flee to higher ground.

Japan's Meteorological Agency issued a warning minutes after the 8.1 magnitude quake struck just after 8pm under the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 miles north-east of Tokyo. It shook the Russian-held Kuril Islands and was felt across the main northern Japan island of Hokkaido.

Television channels broke into normal programming, warning people to evacuate towns along the coast where waves of up to 2 metres (6ft) were initially predicted. Transport in many areas was halted and ships were ordered to leave Nemuro port, which was later hit by a small tsunami.

Thousands of people in the north and north-east spent the night in shelters as the meteorological agency warned that large waves continued to threaten. The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre also issued alerts in Russia and to several Pacific islands. But fears that the tsunami would bring serious destruction were easing by midnight, and there were no reports of deaths or injuries.

Japan upgraded its disaster prevention systems in the wake of the tsunamis of Boxing Day 2004 that killed 200,0000 people.

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