A policeman works near an ice hole, said to be the point of impact of a meteor seen earlier in the Urals region, at lake Chebarkul, 80km west of Chelyabinsk. REUTERS/Chelyabinsk region Interior Ministry
Thousands of Russian emergency workers went out over the
weekend to clear up the damage from a meteor that exploded
over the Ural mountains, damaging buildings, shattering
windows and showering people with broken glass.
Divers searched a lake near the city of Chelyabinsk, where a
hole several metres wide had opened in the ice, but had so
far failed to find any large fragments, officials said.
The scarcity of evidence on the ground fuelled scores of
conspiracy theories over what caused the fireball and its
huge shockwave on Friday in the area which plays host to many
defence industry plants.
Nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky told reporters in
Moscow it could have been "war-mongers" in the United States.
"It's not meteors falling. It's a new weapon being tested by
the Americans," he said.
A priest from near the explosion site called it an act of
God. Social media sites were flooded with speculation about
what might have caused the explosion.
"Honestly, I would be more inclined to believe that this was
some military thing," said Oksana Trufanova, a local human
Asked about the speculation, an official at the local branch
of Russia's Emergencies Ministry simply replied: "Rubbish".
Residents of Chelyabinsk, an industrial city 1,500 km (950
miles) east of Moscow, heard an explosion, saw a bright light
and then felt a shockwave that blew out windows and damaged
the wall and roof of a zinc plant.
The fireball traveling at a speed of 30 km (19 miles) per
second according to Russian space agency Roscosmos, blazed
across the horizon, leaving a long white trail visible as far
as 200 km (125 miles) away.
NASA estimated the object was 55 feet (17 metres) across
before entering Earth's atmosphere and weighed about 10,000
It exploded miles above Earth, releasing nearly 500 kilotons
of energy - about 30 times the size of the nuclear bomb
dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in World War Two,
"We would expect an event of this magnitude to occur once
every 100 years on average," said Paul Chodas of NASA's
Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"When you have a fireball of this size we would expect a
large number of meteorites to reach the surface and in this
case there were probably some large ones."
ONLY SMALL OBJECTS FOUND
Search teams said they had found small objects up to about 1
cm (half-an-inch) wide that might be fragments of a
meteorite, but no larger pieces.
The Chelyabinsk regional governor said the strike caused
about 1 billion roubles ($33 million) worth of damage.
Life in the city had largely returned to normal by Saturday
although 50 people were still in hospital. Officials said
more than 1,200 people were injured, mostly by flying glass.
Repair work had to be done quickly because of the freezing
temperatures, which sank close to -20 degrees Celsius (-4
Fahrenheit) at night.
Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov inspected the damage
after President Vladimir Putin sent him to the region.
His ministry is under pressure to clean up fast following
criticism over the failure to issue warnings in time before
fatal flooding in southern Russia last summer and over its
handling of forest fires in 2010.
Putin will also want to avoid a repeat of the criticism that
he faced over his slow reaction to incidents early in his
first term as president, such as the sinking of the Kursk
submarine in 2000 which killed all 118 people on board.