Tsunami alert issued for Japan after earthquake

Japan Region, earthquake location /

MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) " A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.4 struck in the Pacific Ocean in the early hours of Wednesday, triggering a brief tsunami warning off the southern coast of Japan.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said the quake occurred about 80 miles off the southern coast of Chichi Island in the Pacific Ocean. The offshore quake struck at around 2:20 a.m. (12.20 p.m. EST) at a depth of 6 miles.

The U.S. Geological Survey also put the quake's magnitude at 7.4.

The Japanese agency issued a tsunami alert of up to 6 feet for nearby islands and warnings of milder tsunami for the southern coasts on the main Japanese island.

A minor swelling of waves of about 1 foot was observed on the island's shorelines about 40 minutes after the quake, the agency said. The island is about 600 miles south of Tokyo.

The agency later downgraded the tsunami alert on the island to a warning. All tsunami warnings were lifted Wednesday morning.

But the agency's seismology official Hirofumi Yokoyama said island residents should use caution for "several more hours" given the size of the quake's magnitude.

The temblors were also felt in Tokyo, but there were no immediate reports of any damage or injuries.

"It shook quite violently. I'm sure everyone was scared," said Kenji Komura, principal at a high school on the island. He rushed to school, where about 20 students gathered to take refuge. Despite the shaking, nothing fell on the floor or got damaged at school, Komura said.

About 170 people evacuated to several community centers and school buildings on Chichi and nearby Haha islands, public broadcaster NHK said.

Tomoo Yamawaki, a fisheries cooperative official on Chichi island, said he had observed no significant swelling of the waves.

"We've taken all fishing boats on the island off coast to protect them from the tsunami," Yamawaki, who is in charge of community tsunami broadcast, told NHK. "We haven't observed any significant change in the waves, but we urge all residents to immediately evacuate to a safer place."

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. In 1995, a magnitude-7.2 quake in the western port city of Kobe killed 6,400 people.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.