TOKYO — A major undersea earthquake killed at least 16 people in Russia's remote Kuril Islands late Tuesday, jolted Japan and triggered fears of tidal waves on both sides of the Pacific.
The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of at least 7.9, hit near the sparsely populated Kuril chain north of Japan. At least 176 people in northern Japan were injured by broken glass and falling objects, but only three injuries were considered serious.
A 6.0 magnitude aftershock was felt early today in the same area. There were no immediate reports of additional damage or injuries.
The first quake sent 10-foot-high tidal waves smashing into the Kurils, destroying moorings and hurling small boats onto land. But the waves were smaller and less destructive farther from the epicenter.
By early today, about 40 small tsunami waves had been observed in Japan. Most were less than 3 feet high, although one was 6 feet.
In Moscow, Russia's Ministry for Emergency Situations said the bodies of at least 16 people were found on three islands in the Kuril chain. Most were killed by falling debris, ministry spokesman Anatoly Streltsov said.
Viktor Sankov, spokesman for Russia's regional government on Sakhalin Island, said all of the dead were believed to be members of the Russian military.
In some parts of the Kurils, 18-inch cracks were visible in the ground after the quake, Streltsov said.
The initial quake--which lasted more than a minute--was centered 13 miles beneath the Pacific Ocean floor, near the southern end of the Kuril chain. Japan's Central Meteorological Agency estimated the quake's magnitude at 7.9, making it the strongest to hit the region in 26 years.
The National Earthquake Center in Golden, Colo., estimated the quake at 8.2. It is common for preliminary estimates to differ.
Most of the damage and injuries in Japan occurred on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, which is lightly populated, but buildings shook as far as 650 miles away in Tokyo.
Scientists said the relatively deep hypocenter of the quake and the seabed topography may have kept the size of the tsunamis relatively small.
On the big island of Hawaii, civil defense officials ordered the evacuation of 35,000 people from low-lying areas. Actor Kevin Costner and several hundred cast and crew members shooting Universal Pictures' futuristic action film "Waterworld" were forced to seek higher ground. An elaborate floating set used as an atoll in the movie was towed to deep water as a precaution.