A meteor crashed to Earth in Russia Friday, injuring around 1,000 people as the shock wave and debris from a “biblical, cosmic” flash in the sky blew out windows, rocked buildings and led people to declare the world was coming to an end.
The meteoroid – estimated to be about 10 tons – entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of at least 33,000mph, producing a sonic boom. It shattered into pieces between 18-32 miles above the ground, showering the Urals city of Chelyabinsk with debris.
Glass windows and doors were blown out, several building were damaged. Hundreds of people were injured – some with serious head wounds – and 110 victims remained in hospital, many of them children.
A chunk of the space object apparently smashed into a frozen lake, leaving a six-metre wide hole in the ice.
Video footage showed the meteor streaking through the sky at supersonic speed at about 9.20am local time, and then a blaze of light followed later by the sound of explosions and breaking glass. Residents immediately expressed their shock and fear on social media.
“I thought the world was about to end!” said one. A video clip showed men shouting “It’s a bombardment!” as a noise like an explosion set off car alarms.
A warehouse wall at a zinc factory in the industrial city collapsed from the force of the shock wave and almost 300 buildings had their windows blown out.
Anna Kolesnikova, 31, a website editor who lives in Chelyabinsk, told The Daily Telegraph: “I was getting ready for work when I looked out of the kitchen window and I saw this very bright light and thought, ‘How sunny it is’. And then suddenly it faded, as if it was some kind of illusion.
“A minute later, I went into the other room and suddenly there was a loud explosion and the door to the balcony blew in. I crouched down out of fear. There was a series of smaller explosions, about five, and then I looked out and saw a trail of smoke in the sky. All the car alarms were going off. I thought maybe it was a military aircraft crashing, because they do test flights nearby.”
Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million around 900 miles east of Moscow, said: “There was panic. People had no idea what was happening.
“We saw a big burst of light, then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud, thundering sound,”
A teenager who was meeting friends outside at a nearby stadium later told teachers they had felt a warm wind blowing on their faces after the flash in the sky.
Yevgeny Skorynin, 30, a lawyer, said: “There was a light like a giant welding lamp and then a series of jolts. Some people thought it was an earthquake. Bits were falling off the ceiling in our office.”
Vladimir Prokhorov, a real estate agent in a village about 70 miles from Chelyabinsk, said: “I’d just got out of my car when I saw a fireball shooting across the sky. Everybody just stopped and was saying, ‘What is that?'”
Schools and kindergartens were closed because they were too cold in the -18C temperature without windows. About 20,000 rescue officials were put on high alert, while the city’s internet and mobile phone services were disrupted.
“It was a meteoroid that burned up as it approached the Earth and broke into pieces,” an emergencies ministry official told news agencies. The object left a clear double trail in the sky.
Police said they had initiated “Operation Fortress”, increasing security at strategic buildings. It was unclear how many fragments of the meteor reached the ground.
Police cordoned off a six-metre wide hole in the ice in a lake near the town of Chebarkul, 50 miles west of Chelyabinsk. Small shards of the meteorite were found at its edge. The interior ministry said it had identified two other landing sites.
“This was a very bright bolide that was perfectly visible in the light morning sky; the object was quite big with, apparently, a mass of many tens of tons,” Sergei Smirnov of St Petersburg’s Pulkovo Observatory told Russian state television. Another scientist said it most likely weighed “a few tons” and was probably made of iron.
Astronomers said the meteor was not linked to the asteroid, 2012 DA14, which was due to pass closer to the Earth than any other space body later on Friday.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, promised “immediate” aid for people affected by the meteoroid blast, noting that schools and factories had been damaged.
Source: Reuters, Daily Telegraph