A powerful earthquake rocked northeastern Japan (search) on Monday, knocking out power, starting fires and disrupting road and rail traffic. At least 54 people were hurt, mostly with minor injuries caused by falling objects.

The quake registered a preliminary magnitude of 7.0 and was the strongest to hit Japan in more than two years, the nation's Meteorological Agency said. Skyscrapers swayed in Tokyo, 260 miles away. An agency official suggested the impact of the quake might have been mitigated by its depth.

The temblor was centered 44 miles below the sea floor about 12 miles off the coast of northeastern Miyagi state, the agency said.

A magnitude 7.0 quake can cause major damage over a widespread area. More than 6,000 people were killed in the western city of Kobe when a magnitude-7.2 quake struck there in 1995.

Monday's quake was felt across a broad area of the northern part of Japan's main island of Honshu (search), sending shoppers rushing out into the street in the northeastern city of Sendai (search), cracking foundations and emptying store shelves in cities near the epicenter and rocking buildings in Tokyo.

Fifty-four people were hurt and 31 houses were damaged, all in the northeastern states of Iwate, Miyagi, Akita and Aomori, said Tomoki Sano, a spokesman for the National Policy Agency in Tokyo. Sano said most of the injuries were minor and caused by falling household objects and broken glass.

Media reports quoting local officials estimated the number of injured at 78.

Three fires broke out, one at a power substation and two at houses, and 19 landslides were reported in the region, the police official said. Highways and railways were closed to check for damage — stranding thousands of travelers — and about 35,000 homes lost power for about 45 minutes after the quake.

Meteorological Agency official Noritake Nishide described the epicenter as "relatively deep" and said there was no danger of tsunami — powerful waves that can be stirred up by seismic activity.

Monday's quake was the strongest here since a magnitude-7.3 quake hit southwestern Tottori state in October 2000, injuring more than 130 people.

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries and has adopted tough building standards. It is pulled by four tectonic plates, huge slabs of land that cover the Earth's crust.

The agency said 92 aftershocks had been recorded by Monday night.