A strong earthquake jarred a large island off Russia's Pacific coast early Sunday, smashing furniture and sending frightened residents into the streets. There were no immediate reports of casualties or heavy damage.
The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.5, according to Russian seismological officials. It occurred at 1:03 a.m. Sunday (9:03 a.m. EDT Saturday) near the sparsely populated northern tip of Sakhalin Island, eight time zones and some 4,000 miles east of Moscow.Sakhalin Island, home to 750,000 people, is just north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, on the Sea of Okhotsk. There were no immediate reports of damage on Hokkaido.
No major damage was visible in one of the towns closest to the quake's epicenter, Okha, according to the district governor. But officials were worried about the fate of five nearby villages they could not reach by telephone.
"I have been living in this area for 42 years and it's the first earthquake of such force," Nayil Yarulin, governor of the Okhinsky district, said by telephone.
Local officials in Okha, a town of 35,000, found broken furniture and cracked walls inside many buildings. Two aftershocks quickly followed the initial quake.
The epicenter was about 90 miles south of Okha and right along the coast, said Eduard Kozhukhov, a spokesman for Russia's Ministry for Emergency Situations in Moscow.
U.S. and Japanese seismological officials made similar estimates, placing the preliminary magnitude at 7.6.
A quake measuring magnitude 7 or greater is considered capable of widespread, heavy damage. But the epicenter was more than 400 miles north of the island's capital and major population center, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.