A powerful earthquake in northern Japan has disrupted power, communications and transportation.

The earthquake caused computers to tumble off shelves and roads to buckle in Northern Japan when it hit during the evening rush hour.

The director of the earthquake division of Japan's Meteorological Agency said the quake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale and was the most powerful temblor to hit the country in more than two years.

Noritake Nishide said that even though this was a magnitude 7.0 quake, because it originated 60 kilometers under the Pacific Ocean, there is no danger of a tsunami, or tidal wave.

Scientists say the depth of the violent quake might have also spared Japan a catastrophe on land.

Some people said the shaking continued for more than a minute, and many said it was the most powerful quake they had ever felt.

Several fires were reported in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, on the northern tip of Honshu Island, several hundred kilometers north of Tokyo.

In the city of Sendai, in Miyagi Prefecture, shoppers on the street broke into a run as the shaking intensified.

In Tokyo, workers in high-rise buildings scurried into stairways to take shelter. High-speed train and airline services were suspended as a precaution in a number of cities. One nuclear power plant in Miyagi automatically shut down when the quake hit.

The main tremor was about the same magnitude as the one that hit Kobe in western Japan in 1995, killing more than six thousand people. Monday's quake was also more powerful than the 6.7 magnitude tremor killed more than 2,100 people last week in Algeria.

Yet the greatest initial damage caused by Japan's quake was to the country's currency. Traders in Europe sold the yen when they heard the initial reports of the tremor. The euro jumped to a record high against the Japanese currency.

Tokyo markets had finished for the day by the time the tremor hit.