A major earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale has rocked eastern Indonesia, cracking walls and triggering panic, the US Geological Survey and local residents said.

The quake struck at 1:58 am (1658 GMT Friday) in the Banda Sea, around 195 kilometers (120 miles) south of Ambon city at a depth of 340 kilometres (220 miles), the US Geological Survey said in on its website.

There were no immediate reports of major damage or casualties.

Several buildings in Ambon, including the main shopping center, the Ambon Plaza, sustained cracks to the walls, but there was no major damage.

"It was so strong that people who were soundly sleeping were awakened," Ambon resident Sulaiman Tuasikal.

Detikcom news portal said the quake also cracked the walls of houses and government buildings in Masohi in Central Maluku, which is closest to the quake epicenter.

Hundreds of Masohi residents had fled to higher ground and refused to return to their homes, fearing a tsunami, it said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, which monitors seismic events and their tidal wave-generating potential, put out a bulletin following the quake, but said no tsunami was anticipated.

"A destructive tsunami is not expected from the earthquake," Stuart Weinstein, the center's assistant director, told AFP.

"The quake was very deep. It's 340 kilometers or roughly 220 miles deep. It's so far under the surface that it's not going to cause enough displacement of the sea floor that it'll generate a tsunami," he added.

On December 26, 2004, Indonesia's Aceh province was the hardest hit by the 9.3-magnitude quake off Sumatra that triggered tsunamis which killed more than 220,000 people around the Indian Ocean.

An official with the Jakarta meteorological office said it had recorded the latest quake at 7.3 on the Richter scale.

The tremor was also felt in Tual and Saumlaki, also in the Maluku island chain, as well as in Sorong in Papua province, Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara province and the South Sulawesi provincial capital of Makassar, he told AFP.

A local policeman in Ambon, who declined to be identified, said the quake was "felt very strongly in Ambon and caused many people to flee their homes".

"I ran out of the office along with my colleagues," he told AFP, adding that he was not sure whether there were any casualties or damage.

The sprawling Indonesian archipelago sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity.