A meteor shower in Russia on Friday morning unleashed a series of explosions that injured more than 500 people, with nine hospitalized and three critically injured by broken glass.
The meteor appeared in the sky above Russia’s Ural Mountains as a bright white flash for a few seconds. This was followed by a heavy “bang” that echoed the sound of a blast, according to Russia’s official News Agency Itar-Tass.
Fragments of the meteor fell in the Chelyabinsk region, an area about 1500 kilometers east of Moscow.
Itar-Tass report that the explosion was centered near the town of Satka, about 200 kilometers from regional capital city of Chelyabinsk.
According to The Associated Press, Interior Ministry spokesman Vadim Kolesnikov said over 400 people [that figure has since updated to 1200] had sought medical assistance after the blasts, with at least three hospitalized.
Most of the injuries were from glass broken by the explosions.
“There was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people’s houses to check if they were OK,” Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, which is about 1500 kilometers east of Moscow, told AP in a telephone call.
“We saw a big burst of light then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound,” he added.
Another Chelyabinsk resident, Valya Kazakov, said some elderly women in his neighborhood started wailing that the world was ending.
As is typical in emergencies, reports conflict on exactly what happened. A spokeswoman for the Emergency Ministry, Irina Rossius, told The Associated Press that there was a meteor shower, but another ministry spokeswoman, Elena Smirnikh, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying it was a single meteor.
The local office of the national emergencies ministry released a statement saying a meteor disintegrated above the Urals, “partially burning up in the lower atmosphere”.
“Fragments of the meteorite reached Earth, falling in sparsely populated areas in the Chelyabinsk region,” the statement continued, adding that “numerous calls of panic” had been received.
“At 11:00 am local time we received numerous calls of panic, power cuts and contusions,” Interfax cited the local government as saying.
Scenes of the meteor falling were captured on an amateur video that was broadcast on Russian state television. It showed an object speeding across the sky about 9.20 am. local time, and at least two bright flashes that filled the sky.
News.com reports that schools have been closed in the region after the meteor impact blew out windows of buildings and temperatures in central Russia fell to -18 degrees Celsius.
The Chelyabinsk region is Russia’s industrial heartland and is populated by a number of factories and other facilities that include a nuclear power plant and the massive Mayak atomic waste storage and treatment center.
However, a unnamed spokesman for Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy state corporation, told Interfax said that its operations remained unaffected.
“All Rosatom enterprises located in the Urals region, including the Mayak complex, are working as normal,” said the spokesman.
The emergencies ministry said radiation levels in the region have not changed and that 20,000 rescue workers had been dispatched to help the injured and locate those requiring assistance, News.com added.
The defense ministry has confirmed that it has sent soldiers “to the sites of impact.”
Russian news reports have noted that the meteor hit less than a day before the asteroid 2012 DA14 is set to make the closest recorded pass of an asteroid. But scientists say it will come no closer than 17,100 miles from our planet’s surface and do not believe there is any immediate connection.
“No Earth impact is possible,” said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
More updates on this unfolding story will follow.