Strong quake jolts northwest Japan, but no major damage reported

An earthquake jolted northwestern Japan late Tuesday, prompting officials to issue a tsunami warning along the coast which was lifted about 2½ hours later.

Tsunami warning for northwestern coast lifted after 2½ hours

An earthquake jolted northwestern Japan late Tuesday, prompting officials to issue a tsunami warning along the coast that was lifted about 2½ hours later.

Thousands of families lost electrical power and some bullet train services were suspended, but there were no immediate reports of serious injuries or damage from the quake. Only a minor swelling of the sea was observed in several cities about half an hour after the it struck.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said the quake Tuesday night registered a 6.7 magnitude and was located off the western coast of Yamagata — about 50 kilometres southwest of the city of Sakata.

It said the quake's epicentre was fairly shallow, about 14 kilometres below the sea's surface. Shallow quakes tend to cause more damage on the Earth's surface.

The agency warned of a tsunami as high as one metre along the coast of the northwestern prefectures of Yamagata, Niigata and Ishikawa.

Tsuruoka city crisis management official Takehiko Takahashi said in a televised interview that city officials were helping coastal residents evacuate to higher ground as a precaution.

Minor injuries reported

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said several minor injuries were reported in Niigata and Yamagata prefectures. He urged residents of the affected areas to be prepared for possible aftershocks.

Bullet train service was suspended in parts of the region because of power outages and for safety checks. About 9,000 households in Yamagata and Niigata lost power, according to Tohoku Electric Power Co.

All seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata were offline and no abnormalities were reported.  Kyodo News agency said service was suspended on two bullet train lines to check for damage.

An emergency response team was set up at the Prime Minister's Office to assess the extent of injuries and damage.

"We put people's lives before anything else," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. "We'll do our utmost in rescue operations as we closely co-operate with local authorities."

NHK showed broken glasses and dishes scattered on the floor of a bar in Tsuruoka which was empty after customers rushed out, leaving behind half-eaten food on the counter.

Reports of the earthquake's strength ranged from 6.4 to 6.8 depending on the agency, while the U.S. National Tsunami Warning Centre said a tsunami was not expected for British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California or Alaska.

Japan is one of the most earthquake- and tsunami-prone areas in the world. On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude offshore quake hit the northeast coast, causing a tsunami that took more than 18,000 lives and triggered a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant.

With files from Reuters