MOSCOW (AP) — A meteor streaked across the sky and exploded over Russia’s Ural Mountains with the power of an atomic bomb Friday, its sonic blasts shattering countless windows and injuring nearly 1,000 people.
The spectacle deeply frightened many Russians, with some elderly women declaring that the world was coming to an end. Many of the injured were cut by flying glass as they flocked to windows to see what the reason was for such an intense flash of light.
The meteor — estimated to be about 10 tons — entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 54,000 kph (33,000 mph) and shattered into pieces about 30-50 kilometers (18-32 miles) above the ground, the Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement.
Amateur video showed an object speeding across the sky about 9:20 a.m. local time, just after sunrise, leaving a thick white contrail and an intense flash.
“There was panic. People had no idea what was happening,” said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million about 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) east of Moscow.
“We saw a big burst of light, then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud, thundering sound,” he told The Associated Press by telephone.
The meteor released several kilotons of energy above the region, the science academy said. It was probably about 2 meters (6 ½ feet) across, about the size of an SUV, said Richard Binzel, a professor of Planetary Science at MIT.
The shock wave blew in an estimated 100,000 square meters (more than 1 million square feet) of glass, according to city officials, who said 3,000 buildings in the city were damaged. At one zinc factory, part of the roof collapsed.
The meteor hit less than a day before Asteroid 2012 DA14 is to make the closest recorded pass of an asteroid to the Earth — about 17,150 miles (28,000 kilometers). But the European Space Agency in a tweet said its experts had determined there was no connection — just cosmic coincidence.
The Interior Ministry said 985 people sought medical care after the shock wave and 44 of them were hospitalized. Most of the injuries were caused by flying glass, officials said.
There was no immediate word on any deaths or anyone struck by space fragments.
Meteors typically cause sizeable sonic booms when they enter the atmosphere because they are traveling so much faster than the speed of sound. Injuries on the scale reported Friday, however, are extraordinarily rare.
“I went to see what that flash in the sky was about,” recalled resident Marat Lobkovsky. “And then the window glass shattered, bouncing back on me. My beard was cut open, but not deep. They patched me up. It’s OK now.”
Another resident, Valya Kazakov, said some elderly women in his neighborhood started crying out that the world was ending.
Russian-language hashtags for the meteorite quickly shot up into Twitter’s top trends.
Lessons had just started at Chelyabinsk schools when the meteor exploded, and officials said 204 schoolchildren were among those injured. Amateur video footage showed a teacher speaking to her class as a powerful shockwave hit the room.
Other videos showed a long shard of glass slamming into the floor close to a factory worker and massive doors blown away by the shock wave.