MOSCOW – A plunging meteor exploded with a blinding flash above central Russia on Friday, sowing panic as the hurtling space debris set off a shockwave that smashed windows and left over 250 people injured.
Morning traffic ground to a sudden halt in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk as the falling meteor partially burned up in the lower atmosphere above the city and lit up the morning sky, television footage showed.
The interior ministry said more than 250 people were wounded, three of them seriously, by the shockwave in Chelyabinsk and a half dozen other
towns. The emergencies ministry said mobile communications were temporarily cut.
“At 0920 (0320 GMT) an object was observed above Chelyabinsk which flew by at great speed and left a trail behind. Within two minutes there were two bangs,” regional emergencies official Yuri Burenko said in a statement.
“The shockwave broke glass in Chelyabinsk and a number of other towns in the region,” he said.
Initial reports said a part of the meteorite fell 80 kilometeres (50 miles) from the town of Satki, itself 100 kilometers west of the regional center, but this has not been officially confirmed.
There were no reports that any locals had been hurt directly by a falling piece of meteorite. The defense ministry, meanwhile, said it had sent soldiers “to the sites of impact” without giving further details.
It was not clear if the meteor was linked to the asteroid 2012 DA 14 which is expected to pass about 17,200 miles (27,000 kilometers) above the Earth later Friday in a unusually close approach to the Earth.
Schools were closed for the day across the region after the shock wave blew out windows of buildings amid temperatures as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius (zero degrees Fahrenheit).
The local post service said several of its buildings had been damaged while the stadium of Chelyabinsk’s Traktor ice hockey side was also hit, forcing the cancellation of a match.
State television showed a part of the roof and a wall shorn off a brick zinc factory in the city of Chelyabink, although officials said no one was injured in that case.
Other images showed people with bloodied faces and at least one child’s back covered with blood.
Most of those injured were treated for minor cuts and bruises from shattered glass, the local police department told the RIA Novosti news agency.
Another woman told the station “that only God saved me” from getting hurt when the windows of her bedroom blew out.
With the extraordinary event already becoming a leading trend on Twitter locals posted amateur footage posted on YouTube showed men swearing in surprise and fright, and others grinding their cars to a halt.
A spokesman for Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy state corporation, said that its operations remained unaffected.
“All Rosatom enterprises located in the Urals region — including the Mayak complex — are working as normal,” an unnamed Rosatom spokesman told Interfax.
The emergencies ministry said radiation levels in the region also did not change and that 20,000 rescue workers had been dispatched to help the injured and locate those requiring help.— Agence France-Presse/slate