Galina Zaglumyonova was woken in her flat in central Chelyabinsk by an enormous explosion that blew in the balcony windows and shattered clay pots containing her few houseplants.
When she jumped out of bed on Friday she could see a huge vapour trail hanging in the morning sky and hear the wail of car alarms from the street below.
“I didn’t understand what was going on,” said Zaglumyonova. “There was a big explosion and then a series of little explosions. My first thought was that it was a plane crash.”
What she had actually witnessed were the death throes of a 10-tonne meteorite that plunged to Earth in a series of fireballs just after sunrise.
Officials put the number of people injured at almost 1,200, with more than 40 taken to hospital – most as a result of flying glass shattered by the sonic boom created by the meteorite’s descent. There were no reported deaths.
The meteorite entered the atmosphere travelling at a speed of at least 33,000mph and broke up into chunks between 18 and 32 miles above the ground, according to a statement from the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The event caused panic in Chelyabinsk, a city of more than 1 million people to the south of Russia‘s Ural mountains, as mobile phone networks swiftly became jammed by the volume of calls.
Amateur video footage from the area, often peppered with the obscene language of frightened observers, showed the chunks of meteorite glowing more brightly as they approached the moment of impact.
The vapour trail was visible for hundreds of miles around, including in neighbouring Kazakhstan.
Tatyana Bets was at work in the reception area of a hospital clinic in the centre of the city when the meteorite struck.
“First we noticed the wind, and then the room was filled with a very bright light and we could see a cloud of some unspecified smoke in the sky,” she said. Then, after a few minutes, came the explosions.
At least three craters were subsequently discovered, according to the ministry of the interior, and were being monitored by the military.
One crater was more than six metres wide, while another lump of meteorite was reported to have slammed through the thick ice of a nearby lake. Radiation levels at the impact sites were normal, according to local military officials, Interfax reported.
In Chelyabinsk itself, schools and universities were closed and many other staff told to go home early. About 200 children were among the injured.
Zinc prices jumped slightly on the London Metals Exchange after it was reported that a local zinc factory had been particularly badly hit and had suffered damage to its walls and roof.
A steady stream of lightly injured people, most suffering cuts from flying glass, came into the clinic where Bets works. She said a nearby dormitory building for college students was particularly badly affected and many of the students were brought in suffering from fright.
“There were a lot of girls in shock. Some were very pale and many of them fainted,” she said.
Early estimates suggested more than 100,000 square metres of glass had been broken and 3,000 buildings hit. The total cost of the damage in the city was being valued at in excess of 1 billion roubles (£200,000).
The meteorite over Chelyabinsk arrived less than a day before asteroid 2012 DA14 was expected to make the closest pass to Earth (about 17,510 miles) of any recorded cosmic body. But experts said the two events were linked by nothing more than coincidence.
Rumours and conspiracy theories, however, swirled in the first few hours after the incident. Reports on Russian state television and in local media suggested that the meteorite was engaged by local air defence units and blown apart at an altitude of more than 15 miles.
The ultra-nationalist leader of Russia’s Liberal Democrat party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said it was not a meteorite but military action by the United States, echoing much of the speculation voiced on amateur film footage.
“It’s not a meteorite falling – it’s a test of new American weapons,” Zhirinovsky said.
Some were quick to take advantage of the confusion. Enterprising people were offering lumps of meteorite for sale through internet sites within a few hours of the impact.
President Vladimir Putin and the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, were informed about the incident, and Putin convened a meeting with the head of the emergency situations ministry.
“It’s proof that not only are economies vulnerable, but the whole planet.” Medvedev said at an economic forum in Siberia, Interfax reported.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister and former ambassador to Nato, took to Twitter to call for an international push to create a warning system for all “objects of an alien origin”.
Neither the US nor Russia had the capability to bring down such objects, he added.