By Anna Arutunyan and Marc Bennetts, Special for USA TODAY
MOSCOW - People in a freezing industrial region of Russia saw a flash
of blinding light before an explosion of flying glass Friday when a
meteor streaked across the sky and blew up, injuring 1,100 people in
what looked like a disaster out of a movie.
"I woke up hearing a
blast. It felt like the whole building jumped up," said Igor Chudnovsky,
a commercial director in the town of Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountain
range. "I saw a light, it looked like it was from a nuclear explosion,
like I had seen in documentaries."
While NASA estimated the meteor
was only about the size of a bus and weighed an estimated 7,000 tons,
it exploded with the force of 20 atomic bombs.
atmosphere absorbed the vast majority of that energy," said Amy Mainzer,
a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
arrived just hours before an asteroid named the 2012 DA14 was due to
come within 17,000 miles of Earth at 2:24 p.m. ET, a record
close-approach for an asteroid this size.
Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science, called the back-to-back celestial events an amazing display.
is indeed very rare and it is historic," he said on NASA TV. "These
fireballs happen about once a day or so, but we just don't see them
because many of them fall over the ocean or in remote areas. "
of the meteorite crashed over a thinly populated area of the
Chelyabinsk region, a factory heartland 900 miles east of Moscow near
the border of Kasakhstan. Shock waves from the exploding space rock blew
out windows in schools, offices and residential buildings in freezing
cold temperatures, reported RIA Novosti, the Russian state news agency.
of the wounded were cut from broken glass, Interior Ministry spokesman
Vadim Kolesnikov said. Afterward, large holes were found in the ice of
frozen lakes, and a huge section of a roof at a zinc factory had
The meteorite rocketed into the atmosphere at 33,000 mph - or 10
miles per second - and shattered into pieces somewhere between 18-32
miles above the ground, the Russian Academy of Sciences said. As it
streaked across the clear morning sky, the meteorite left a trail of
white cloud that could be seen across large parts of central Russia.
said the Russian fireball was the largest reported since 1908, when a
meteor hit Tunguska, Siberia, and flattened an estimated 80 million
Some in Russia thought they may get struck again.
very afraid," said Tamara Khabarova, a retiree from central Russia's
Voronzeh region. "But what can we do? It's in God's hands."
Cars with loudspeakers drove around the city during the day, telling people not to panic, but some did.
was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going
around to people's houses to check if they were OK," said Sergey
Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, about 930 miles east of Moscow, told
the Associated Press.
Marat Lobkovsky said he was heading to a window to see what the flash was about.
"The window glass shattered, bouncing back on me.They patched me up. It's OK now," he said.
school student Yekaterina Smolina said he was in her classroom in
Chelyabinsk when a bright light illuminated the outdoors.
outside to look and stood next to a glass door, which then shattered,"
said Smolina, who was cut slightly by flying shards.
"My first thought was that it was an airplane crash," Chudnovsky
said. "There's a military aviation base nearby and we've already had
cases of their planes crashing."???
Chudnovsky said the landing
windows in his building shattered when the explosion sounded and a
friend of his who lives nearby was thrown out of his kitchen by the
blast. Another acquaintance who was out driving in his car told him the
blast felt like "a wave of heat."
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a nationalist leader known for outlandish comments, blamed the Americans.
"It's not meteors falling. It's the test of a new weapon by the Americans," RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.
Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the incident showed the need for
leading world powers to develop a system to intercept objects falling
"At the moment, neither we nor the Americans have such
technologies" to shoot down meteors or asteroids, he said, according to
the Interfax news agency.
Police said the meteorite had plunged
into a frozen lake near the town of Chebarkul, creating an eight-meter
wide crater. Radiation levels around the lake and across the area were
reported to be normal.
Officials from Russia 's nuclear agency,
Rosatom, said the meteorite had caused no damage to nuclear facilities
in the area, which were all said to be operating as usual.
Igor Ivanov was carrying out a religious service in Chelyabinsk when the
meteorite's sonic boom blew out two church windows.
"I only found it was a meteorite after the service," he said. "There is no panic in the city, but there is a sense of unease."
sought to calm locals after rumors spread that a second meteorite was
heading in their direction. A senior Chelyabinsk clergyman called the
meteorite a message from God.
"From the Scriptures, we know that
the Lord often sends people signs and warnings via natural forces,"
Metropolitan of Chelyabinsk and Zlatoust Feofan said. "For the whole of
humanity, the meteorite is a reminder that we live in fragile and
Gas supplies were cut off to hundreds of
home in Chelyabinsk as a safety precaution and children were sent home
from school after shattered windows left them exposed to temperatures of
4 below zero Fahrenheit. About 3,000 residential buildings were damaged
by falling meteorite fragments averaging around 8 inches each in
diameter, Chelyabinsk city officials said.
Others saw the
meteorite as a way to make a quick ruble. Alleged fragments of the
meteorite were being sold online for a starting price of $15.
In Chelyabinsk, a window repair company took full advantage of the celestial visitor.
"Have your windows been shattered by the meteorite?" read an online
advertisement. "This is an excellent chance to put in some plastic
windows. Order some right now!"
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard, The Associated Press