A 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the northeastern coast of Japan near Kamiashi on Friday, stoking fears of a tsunami like the one that ravaged much of Japan in March of 2011, and killed nearly 20,000 people

The earthquake struck at 5:18 p.m. local time at a depth of about 36km, reported the US Geological Survey, and prompted immediate warnings of a possible tsunami. News channels began sounding the alarm for residents to prepare to evacuate their homes, with reminders of the devastation of last year’s tsunami.

The earthquake caused Tokyo skyscrapers to "sway violently" and even prompted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to cancel his campaigning for next week’s election, in order to return to his office in Tokyo.

One NHK broadcaster warned viewers, “Remember last year's quake and tsunami. Call on your neighbors and flee to higher ground now!" Ishinomaki, a town that suffered the brunt of the last tsunami and is still struggling to rebuild, evacuated its residents and within an hour a tsunami appeared on its shores. But fortunately for residents, it never managed to rise above 3 feet, and two hours later, news channels along with the meteorological agency had cancelled their warnings.

Jamie El-Banna, a disaster volunteer currently living in Ishinomaki told the BBC that he evacuated the town with other residents. "We live less than a kilometre from the water so we went calmly as far back from the water as possible, which is what the advice is if you can't get to higher ground,” said El-Banna. “Everyone evacuated in a calm, orderly way."

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, a reporter for the BBC stationed in Tokyo, predicted that the tsunami posed a much lower risk than that of the 2011 – which rose at its highest to 36 feet – but explained that Japan has become extremely cautious about even relatively small earthquakes since the disaster.

Friday’s earthquake was the second to strike Japan in a month; in November, an earthquake with a preliminary Richter magnitude of 5.5 hit Fukushima-ken Oki. And some people are concerned that the earthquakes might still be aftershocks from 2011’s major earthquake, but according to scientists it’s still too early to determine whether that’s the case.

Jessica Turner, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said that it was entirely plausible that Friday’s earthquake was an aftershock, telling OurAmazingPlanet, "It's very normal to have aftershocks more than a year later."

Although Turner admitted there was some debate in the scientific community about how long aftershocks can continue, she said that due to the extreme magnitude of 2011’s quake it would take more time before the earth "get back to normal."

"It's going to take a long time for the Earth to get back to the background level of seismicity after last year's event," said Turner.