Meteor Shower in Urals Causes Panic and Injuries
Published: February 15, 2013 (Issue # 1746)
Allison Quinn / SPT
MOSCOW – A meteor shower in the Urals Federal District in central Russia shattered residents’ windows, shook the ground and caused several injuries Friday morning, the Emergency Situations Ministry reported.
The first reports came in around 7:55 a.m. Moscow time, with witnesses in Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg and Tyumen saying they saw “blinding” flashes in the sky, heard massive thunder and witnessed windows shatter, Yelena Smirnykh, deputy head of the ministry’s information department, told Interfax.
Debris is believed to have landed in several places throughout the Chelyabinsk region — about 1,500 kilometers east of Moscow — and windows in the buildings closest to the meteor’s trajectory shattered, causing several injuries.
As of 2:00 p.m., about 500 injuries were documented, RIA-Novosti reported, citing the Interior Ministry.
The Chelyabinsk administration has created a working group headed by Deputy Governor Igor Murog to deal with the aftermath of the meteor shower and arrange medical assistance for those injured.
The Volga Federal District was also affected by the meteor shower.
“The flashes in the lower layers of the atmosphere caused by a meteor shower were recorded above both the Urals and the Volga Federal District, the impact of which caused windows to shatter in the upper floors of buildings,” Smirnykh said.
“According to confirmed data, it was a single meteor that began to burn upon approaching Earth and then burst into pieces,” Smirnykh said.
In Chelyabinsk, the region that appears to have been the hardest hit — which is also home to a nuclear power plant and the Mayak atomic complex — cell phone service is reportedly down. Several evacuations were carried out at schools through the region.
According to Interfax, all schools and kindergartens in the region have been closed by order of the Federal Consumer Protection Service.
The Emergency Situations Ministry is working in an intensified regime, with 20,000 workers put on high alert, Lenta.ru reported. The ministry says it doesn’t expect any more meteor showers, however.
Residents initially thought the incident was caused by fighter jets flying too close to the ground.
“It was unclear, there were flashes with movements of something that looked like a comet or meteor. The airport is working according to its normal schedule,” said Yevgeny Krasikov, a spokesman for Yekaterinburg-based Koltsovo Airport.
One witness from Emanzhilinsk in the Chelyabinsk region said, “It started to explode in the air and then continued to the earth. There are black clouds over the city. Everybody thought war had broken out.”
Residents in Chelyabinsk have also reported a strong smell from the burning debris.
The Emergency Situations Ministry reported that radiation levels in the areas affected by the meteor are normal, and they will continue to be monitored closely.
Several politicians have already commented on the unexpected celestial event, with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin calling for the creation of an international system of defense against asteroids and meteors and Prime Ministry Dmitry Medvedev expressing hope that no one was seriously injured.
Medvedev, currently in Krasnoyarsk for an economic forum, also joked that the meteor could be seen as a symbol of the forum, in the sense that it is a reminder that “our entire planet is vulnerable, not just the economy,” Rossiisskaya Gazeta reported.
Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, on the other hand, said that there really was no meteor at all.
“It wasn’t a meteor falling, it was the Americans testing out weapons,” Zhirinovsky said in comments carried by RIA-Novosti.