Sapa-AFP, Sapa-AP, Reuters
A powerful, 8.3-magnitude earthquake struck off Japan's northern coast in the Pacific on Saturday, sparking a tsunami warning and sending thousands of residents along the archipelago's eastern coast fleeing to higher ground, officials said.
A small tsunami wave hit Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido after the quake hit 525km east-northeast of the Kurile islands, and 1,710km north-east of Tokyo.
Hokkaido officials urged residents to move to higher ground. There was only moderate shaking in Hokkaido and there were no immediate reports of injury.
By mid-morning on Saturday the US had cancelled its tsunami warnings for all areas of the Pacific Ocean that could have been affected. Alaska had been under a tsunami warning and Hawaii under a tsunami watch after the earthquake.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre had a tsunami watch in effect for a wide area of the Pacific, including Guam, Taiwan, the Philippines and Hawaii.
The quake struck at about 5.24am GMT near the Kuril Trench, about 500km east of the Etorofu island between northern Japan and Russia, at a depth of 30km below the seabed, Japan's Meteorological Agency said.
Temblors of magnitude seven and upwards 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 magnitude-9.1 earthquake off the coast of Indonesia on December 26 2004 caused a tsunami that killed at least 213,000 people in 11 countries.