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By NBF News
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A SMALL tsunami hit Japan's northeastern coastline yesterday, after a strong earthquake rocked the region almost exactly a year on from the country's worst post-war natural disaster.

Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that a 6.9-magtinude quake struck 26.6 kilometres below the seabed off the northern island of Hokkaido in the Pacific at 6:08 p.m. local time (0908 GMT), quoting the United States (U.S.) Geological Survey as saying.

It was followed by a 20 centimetre (eight inch) tsunami, which had prompted local authorities to issue an evacuation warning for coastal residents before it hit land.

The waves hit several locations in Hokkaido as well as Aomori prefecture, which was one of the areas in Japan's northeast devastated by last year's disaster.

The Japanese meteorological agency had initially said a tsunami could be as high as 50 centimetres, but U.S. monitors said there was no Pacific-wide tsunami threat.

The initial quake was followed by several powerful aftershocks in the same vicinity, including one with a magnitude of 6.1, but there was no tsunami warning.

Almost three hours after the first quake, a 5.7-magnitude shock struck 90 kilometres east of Tokyo, USGS said. Japanese officials said there was no fear of a tsunami 'although sea levels may change slightly in a few hours'.

The quakes came after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a monster wave on March 11 last year that killed more than 19,000 people and crippled Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant.

The tsunami swamped cooling systems at the Fukushima site and sent three reactors into meltdown, spewing radiation into the environment and sparking the world's worst atomic accident in a generation.

There were no immediate reports of damage at nuclear facilities in the area affected by yesterday's quake.

A spokesman for Tohoku Electric Power, which operates two nuclear power plants in the country's northeast, said the facilities were unaffected.

'We have not monitored any change in radiation levels around the facilities following the quake,' he told AFP.

The meteorological agency had also warned the tsunami could reach the Kuril islands, off Hokkaido, which Russia has controlled since Japan's surrender at the end of World War II.

On Sunday, Japan fell silent to remember last year's tragedy, with tearful families gathering in towns and villages across the country's shattered northeast to remember those they lost when the towering waves smashed ashore.