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February 15. 2013 10:36PM

Meteor explodes over central Russia


The trail of a falling object is seen above a residential apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, in this still image taken from video shot on Feb. 15. (REUTERS/ Spetszakaz)

CHELYABINSK, Russia - A meteor streaked across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday, raining fireballs over a wide area and causing a shock wave that smashed windows, damaged buildings and injured more than 1,000 people.

People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt the shock wave, according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 950 miles east of Moscow.

The fireball, traveling at a speed of 19 miles per second, according to Russian space agency Roscosmos, had blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail that could be seen as far as 125 miles away.

Car alarms went off, thousands of windows shattered and mobile phone networks were disrupted. The Interior Ministry said the meteor explosion, a very rare spectacle, also unleashed a sonic boom.

"I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it were day," said Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains. "I felt like I was blinded by headlights."

The meteor, which weighed about 10 tons and may have been made of iron, entered Earth's atmosphere and broke apart 19 to 31 miles above ground, according to Russia's Academy of Sciences.

No deaths were reported but the Emergencies Ministry said 20,000 rescue and clean-up workers were sent to the region after President Vladimir Putin told Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov to ease the disruption and help the victims.

The Interior Ministry said about 1,200 people had been injured, at least 200 of them children, and most from shards of glass.

The region of Chelyabinsk has long been a hub for the Russian military and defense industry, and it is often the site where artillery shells are decommissioned.

A local Emergencies Ministry official said meteor storms were extremely rare and Friday's incident may have been connected with an asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool that was due to pass Earth.

But an astronomer at Russia's Academy of Sciences, Sergei Barabanov, poured doubt on that report. He said there was no evidence to support the theory that the meteor had traveled with the asteroid or had broken off from it.

The European Space Agency, on its Twitter microblog, also said its experts had confirmed there was no link.

The regional governor in Chelyabinsk said the meteorite shower had caused more than $30 million in damage, and the Emergencies Ministry said some 300 buildings had been affected.

One piece of meteorite broke through the ice of nearby Cherbakul Lake, leaving a hole several yards wide.

Despite warnings not to approach any unidentified objects, some enterprising locals were hoping to cash in.

"Selling meteorite that fell on Chelyabinsk!" one prospective seller, Vladimir, said on a popular Russian auction website. He attached a picture of a black piece of stone that on Friday afternoon was priced at $49.46.


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