Russia’s Urals region has been rocked by a meteorite explosion in the stratosphere. The impact wave damaged several buildings, and blew out thousands of windows amid frigid winter weather. Hundreds are seeking medical attention for minor injuries.
Eyewitness accounts of the meteorite phenomenon, handpicked by RT.
According to unconfirmed reports, the meteorite was intercepted by an air defense unit at the Urzhumka settlement near Chelyabinsk. A missile salvo blew the meteorite to pieces at an altitude of 20 kilometers, local newspaper Znak reports quoting a source in the military.
Regnum news agency quoted a military source who claimed that the vapor condensation trail of the meteorite speaks to the fact that the meteorite was intercepted by air defenses.
Army units found three meteorite debris impact sites, two of which are in an area near Chebarkul Lake, west of Chelyabinsk. The third site was found some 80 kilometers further to the northwest, near the town of Zlatoust.
Russian space agency Roskosmos has confirmed the object that crashed in the Chelyabinsk region is a meteorite: “According to preliminary estimates, this space object is of non-technogenic origin and qualifies as a meteorite. It was moving at a low trajectory with a speed of about 30 km/s.”
As of 14:30 Moscow time, 514 people have sought medical attention in the disaster area, 112 of whom have been hospitalized .Among the injured there are 84 children, Emergency ministry reported.
A meteorite is a solid piece of debris from space objects such as asteroids or comets, ranging in size from tiny to gigantic.
When a meteorite falls on Earth, passing through the atmosphere causes it to heat up and emit a trail of light, forming a fireball known as a meteor, or shooting or falling star.
A bright flash was seen in the Chelyabinsk, Tyumen and Sverdlovsk regions, Russia’s Republic of Bashkiria and in northern Kazakhstan.
The Russian army has joined the rescue operation. Army units are searching for meteorite debris in several places in Chelyabinsk region and in the neighboring Tyumen region.
Radiation, chemical and biological protection units have been put on high alert. Since the explosion occurred several kilometers above the Earth, a large ground area must be thoroughly checked for radiation and other threats.
At least one piece of the fallen object caused damage on the ground in Chelyabinsk. According to preliminary reports, it crashed into a wall near a zinc factory, disrupting the city’s Internet and mobile service.
The Emergency Ministry reported that 20,000 rescue workers are operating in the region. Three aircraft were deployed to survey the area and locate other possible impact locations.
The trail of a falling object is seen above a residential apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, on February 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Oleg Kargopolov)
Witnesses said the explosion was so loud that it seemed like an earthquake and thunder had struck at the same time, and that there were huge trails of smoke across the sky. Others reported seeing burning objects fall to earth.
The Urals regional center of the Emergency Ministry claimed it sent out a mass SMS warning residents about a possible meteorite shower. However, eyewitnesses said they either never received it, or got the message after the explosion had already occurred.
Classes for all Chelyabinsk schools have been canceled, mostly due to broken windows. Institute students have been dismissed until next Monday. Authorities also ordered all kindergartens with broken windows to return children to their families.