Moscow, Feb 15 — More than 500 people, including 84 children, were injured when a meteorite shower rained down on three regions of Russia, and neighbouring Kazakhstan, officials said Friday.
Officials said 112 people have been hospitalised, with three in a “grave” condition, reported RIA Novosti.
Most people were injured by shattering windowpanes and many of the injuries seemed to be concentrated in the hard-hit Chelyabinsk region.
An estimated 20,000 emergency response workers have been mobilised. Background radiation levels reportedly remain unchanged. This was confirmed both by emergencies officials, and by the national nuclear agency, concerned because the area has a fair number of nuclear facilities.
Reports about whether this was one large meteorite or many smaller ones initially varied, but the national space agency, Roscosmos, confirmed by early afternoon that the object had been a single meteorite, a report given earlier by emergency officials.
“Verified information indicates that this was one meteorite which burned up as it approached the Earth and disintegrated into smaller pieces,” deputy head of the Russian Emergencies Ministry press office, Elena Smirnykh said.
Roscosmos stated the meteorite had been moving at a speed of 30 km per second.
“All the city’s residents saw blinding flashes, very bright ones,” a teacher in the Chelyabinsk region told RIA Novosti.
“Suddenly, it was very, very horribly bright. Not like the lights got turned on, but as if everything was illuminated with unusual white light.”
Officials are trying to determine where the fragments have landed.
The Chelyabinsk governor said one had fallen in a lake in his region, while others have been reported in the Tyumen, Kurgan and Sverdlovsk regions as well. Emergency officials in west Kazakhstan said they were searching for two unidentified objects that fell in the country’s Aktobe region.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at an economic forum going on in Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk region, called the meteorite “a symbol of the forum”.
“I hope that there will be no serious consequences, but it is a demonstration that it is not only the economy that is vulnerable, but our planet as well,” he said.
The European Space Agency (ESA) said there was no link between the meteorite and the 2012 DA14 asteroid which is due to pass close by the Earth Friday.
Buildings across Russia’s Chelyabinsk region were damaged by falling meteorite particles and the shock waves and sonic booms caused by them, Russian officials said.
A roof and wall partly collapsed at a zinc factory in Chelyabinsk region after it was struck by the shock-wave from the meteorite, the interior ministry reported. The officials did not specify which factory it was.
South Ural State University cancelled classes for at least two days due to damage to its buildings.
“The roof did not collapse, but the damage is quite significant. The windows are broken, some of them were blown in with their frames,” said a university spokeswoman. Some ceiling tiles also fell down, she added.
Windows were also broken in at least a dozen schools and three hospitals. The roof of a Chelyabinsk ice rink has also been damaged.
The Yuzhnouralskaya district power station had 10 percent of its windows broken but there was no effect on its operations, Russian energy supplier Inter RAO reported.
Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, said its facilities across the affected regions were functioning normally. The defence ministry also said none of its properties were damaged.