MOSCOW, Russia: With a blinding flash and a booming shock wave, a meteor blazed across the sky over Russia’s Ural Mountains region and exploded with the force of an atomic bomb, injuring more than 1,000 people as it blasted out windows and spread panic in a city of one million.
Described by NASA as a “tiny asteroid,” the meteor’s explosion created a blast in central Russia equivalent to 300,000 tons of TNT, the space agency’s officials said Friday, adding that the incident was a once-in-100-years event.Video shot by startled residents of the city of Chelyabinsk showed its streaming contrails arcing toward the horizon just after sunrise, looking like something from a world-ending science-fiction movie.
It came hours before a 150-foot asteroid passed within about 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometres) of Earth. The European Space Agency said its experts had determined there was no connection between the asteroid and the Russian meteor — just cosmic coincidence.
The meteor over Russia entered the Earth’s atmosphere about 9:20am local time (10:20 pm EST Thursday) at a hypersonic speed of at least 33,000 mph (54,000 kph) and shattered into pieces about 30-50 kilometres (18-32 miles) high, the Russian Academy of Sciences said. NASA estimated its speed at about 40,000 mph and the energy released in the hundreds of kilotons.
“There was panic. People had no idea what was happening,” said Sergey Hametov of Chelyabinsk, about 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) east of Moscow. “We saw a big burst of light, then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud, thundering sound,” he told The Associated Press by telephone.
The shock wave blew in an estimated 100,000 square metres (more than 1 million square feet) of glass, according to city officials, who said 3,000 buildings in Chelyabinsk were damaged. At a zinc factory, part of the roof collapsed.
The Interior Ministry said about 1,100 people sought medical care after the shock wave and 48 were hospitalised. Most of the injuries were caused by flying glass, officials said. The injured included more than 200 children. Most of those hurt are in the Chelyabinsk region, though the vast majority of injuries are not thought to be serious.
About 3,000 buildings were damaged — mostly with broken glass — as a result of the shock waves caused by the blast, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency said.
Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Vladimir Purgin said many of the injured were cut as they flocked to windows to see what caused the intense flash of light, which momentarily was brighter than the sun.
President Vladimir Putin summoned the nation’s emergencies minister and ordered immediate repairs. “We need to think how to help the people and do it immediately,” he said.
Yekaterina Melikhova, a high school student whose nose was bloody and whose upper lip was covered with a bandage, said she was in her geography class when a bright light flashed outside.
“After the flash, nothing happened for about three minutes. Then we rushed outdoors. The door was made of glass, a shock wave it hit us,” she said.
Meteors typically cause sizeable sonic booms when they enter the atmosphere because they are traveling so much faster than the speed of sound. Injuries on the scale reported yesterday, however, are extraordinarily rare.
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