A huge meteorite flared through the skies over Russia’s Chelyabinsk region early Friday, triggering a powerful shock wave that injured hundreds of people, blew out windows and reportedly caused the roof of a factory to collapse.
Multiple amateur videos posted online showed the meteor’s flaring arc across the western Siberia sky. Others from the scene included the sound of a loud boom, followed by a cacophony of car alarms. One video showed the hurried evacuation of an office building in Chelyabinsk.
“There was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people’s houses to check if they were OK,” Chelyabinsk resident Sergey Hametov told The Associated Press. “We saw a big burst of light then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound.”
Another resident described the meteorite’s “flash.”
“I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend,” Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name, told Reuters. “Then there was a flash and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shock wave that smashed windows.”
Chelyabinsk health official Marina Moskvicheva said as many as 985 people had requested medical assistance in the city. Earlier on Friday, Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said 514 people had sought medical help, mainly for light injuries caused by flying glass, and that 112 of those were hospitalized, according to Reuters.
The meteor, which was reportedly 10 tons, cut a blazing ribbon across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake that could be seen 125 miles (200 kilometers) away in Yekaterinburg. The Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement that the space rock entered Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of at least 33,000 mph, according to the AP. Some authorities in Russia, however, have said that the event was a meteor shower, and not a single meteor.
“Preliminary indications are that it was a meteorite [shower],” the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted an emergency official as saying. “We have information about a blast at 10,000-meter (32,800-foot) altitude.”
As many as 10,000 police have been mobilized to aid in recovery and to remove debris from the meteorite, which has been found in three areas around the Chelyabinsk region, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. Military spokesman Yarslavl Roshupkin told the news agency that a 20-foot-wide crater was found that could be the result of meteor fragments.
The interior ministry said the shock wave caused the roof of a zinc factory’s warehouse to collapse, but that no fatalities were reported.
InÂ Russia and around the world, observers marveled at the fireball and its aftermath.
It was a once in a decade event, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, told TODAY on Friday, saying the impact was the physics equivalent of hitting a brick wall. “When you hit a brick wall, you basically explode, and that’s what happened here, and it exploded in midair,” Tyson said.
“There have never been any cases of meteorites breaking up at such a low level over Russia before,” Yuri Burenko, head of the Chelyabinsk branch of the Emergencies Ministry, told Reuters.Â
There have been no significant disturbances to public utilities or communications, Vladimir Stepanov of the Emergency Situation Ministry told ITAR-Tass. “No serious consequences have been so far recorded,” Stepanov said, according to the news agency. “There has been no disruption in the rail and air transport work.”
The fireball reports spread just hours before a 150-foot-wide asteroid was due to make a close flyby, coming within 17,200 miles of Earth. It’s unlikely that there’s any connection between the fireball and the encounter asteroid, known as 2012 DA14. However, a bright flash and explosion in midair would be consistent with the atmospheric entry and breakup of a large meteoroid.