http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/asiapc....ap/index.html.

TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- 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 late Wednesday.

The quake struck about 390 kilometers (240 miles) 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 meters (6.5 feet) 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.

Local authorities along Hokkaido's coast have ordered residents living along the northern and eastern coasts of Japan's northern main island of Hokkaido to evacuate to higher ground, according to public broadcaster NHK.

In the city of Kushiro, 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 local trains on Hokkaido to stop at nearby stations as a precautionary step, NHK said.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported on its Web site a 7.8 magnitude quake centered 443 kilometers (275 miles) east-northeast of the Kuril Islands at a depth of 27.7 kilometers (17.2 miles).

Temblors of magnitude 7 are generally classified as major earthquakes, capable of widespread, heavy damage.

Russian officials confirmed that a powerful earthquake had struck the Kuril Islands area but said there was no immediate word of damage or casualties.

Tsunami waves -- generated by earthquakes -- are often barely noticeable in the ocean but can rise to great heights once they arrive at shore.

Cindy Preller at the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer said no tsunami is expected to hit Hawaii or the West Coast of North and South America. She said there is a slight chance one could hit in the western Aleutian Islands of the U.S. state of Alaska.

A magnitude 9.1-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia on December 26, 2004 caused a tsunami that killed at least 213,000 people in 11 countries