The MVD reported that more than 150 people sought medical help in one of three Russian oblasts hit by a meteorite shower on Friday. It said that dozens of people suffered cuts from broken glass as the meteorites smashed windows in numerous buildings across the Chelyabinsk Oblast, but “no-one suffered serious injuries”. On Friday, Russian government officials confirmed that the meteorite shower hit three oblasts of Russia and Kazakhstan. The police are searching for the fallen meteorite pieces and protecting affected buildings from looting. Reports are inconclusive about whether one large meteorite or several smaller ones caused the incident. Residents of three villages in Sverdlovsk Oblast reported witnessing the shower, but nobody there was injured.
The hail of meteor pieces that hit Russia on Friday fell in an area with a cluster of major nuclear facilities, including the largest Russian nuclear fuel-processing plant, but officials said early on that none suffered any damage and that they detected no radioactive contamination. In a statement released within hours of the strike, which damaged factories, schools, and residential buildings, Rosatom, the state nuclear agency, said, “All of Rosatom’s facilities in the Urals region are working normally. They’ve suffered no consequences from the meteorite shower”. The most well-known facility in the area, located in hard-hit Chelyabinsk Oblast, is the Mayak nuclear-fuel processing plant, where a major accident in 1957 caused some of the worst nuclear contamination in the USSR’s history, second, perhaps, only to the infamous Chernobyl reactor accident. Local officials said that they had noticed no contamination there.
The MVD reported that the number of people who sought medical help across three Russian oblasts hit by a meteorite shower on Friday climbed to over 400. Officials said that hundreds suffered cuts from broken glass as the meteorites smashed windows in numerous buildings across Chelyabinsk Oblast. An MVD spokesman said, “The condition of at least three [people] is considered serious”. The shower hit at least six cities in three centrally-located Russian oblasts. On Friday, Russian government officials confirmed that the shower also affected some areas of neighbouring Kazakhstan.
On Friday morning, Russian officials said that falling meteorite particles and the shock waves and sonic booms caused by them damaged buildings across Chelyabinsk Oblast. The MVD reported that a roof and wall partly collapsed at a zinc factory in Chelyabinsk Oblast after a shock wave from a meteorite struck it. The officials didn’t specify which factory it was. In an online statement, the oblast authorities said that the factory continued working normally despite the damage. South Ural State University cancelled classes for at least two days due to damage to its buildings. A university spokesman told RIA-Novosti, “The roof didn’t collapse, but the damage is quite significant. The windows are broken; some of them were blown in with their frames”. She also added that some ceiling tiles also fell down. EMERCOM reported that windows were also broken at least a dozen schools and three hospitals. The roof of a Chelyabinsk ice rink also suffered damage.
Chelyabinsk municipal authorities reported that at least 454 residential buildings had their gas supply cut off in central Chelyabinsk as of 16.30 local time Friday afternoon after protective safety systems were activated, but they reported no damage to gas pipelines. Energy supplier Inter RAO reported that the Yuzhnouralskaya district power station had 10 percent of its windows broken, but there was no effect on its operations. Rosatom, the state nuclear agency, said that its facilities across the affected regions were functioning normally. The Defence Ministry also said that none of its property was damaged. In Chelyabinsk Oblast alone, hundreds of people were injured, mainly due to cuts from flying glass. People in at least three Russian oblasts (Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk, and Tyumen), as well as those in the northern area of neighbouring Kazakhstan, witnessed the meteorite shower early on Friday morning.
Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Mikhail Yurevich said in a statement posted on his website that a meteorite that injured scores of people in central Russia when it fell to earth early on Friday plunged into a lake in the Chelyabinsk Oblast, noting, “The meteorite that passed over Chelyabinsk Oblast fell into a body of water 1 kilometre (2/3 mile) from the city of Chebarkul”. Almost 500 people were injured when fragments from what EMERCOM said was a single meteorite fell across central Russia. Most people were hurt by shattering glass. Five people are in hospital, an MVD spokesman described the condition of three of them as “serious”. Roscosmos confirmed that the object was a meteorite and said that it was moving at “around 30 kilometres per second (108,000 kph/18.6 miles per second/67,100 mph) at a low trajectory”.
The European Space Agency (ESA) said that the meteorite that hit the Urals on Friday morning was not debris from the 2012 DA14 asteroid, which is due to pass close by the Earth later the same day. ESA said on its official Twitter that its experts confirmed that there’s no link between the meteorite and the asteroid, but provided no details of its analysis. The 2012 DA14, which is roughly 50 metres (165 feet) in diameter, will pass 27,000 kilometres (16,800 miles) from Earth… closer than satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which is 36,000 kilometres (22,400 miles). The 2012 DA14 flyby will take place at 19.24 UTC (11.24 PST 14.24 EST 23.24 MSK 06.24 16 February AEST), about 16 hours after the meteorite incident in Chelyabinsk Oblast which left at least 400 injured, mostly from glass broken by the shock wave as the meteorite flew past. Numerous media reports linked the asteroid to the meteor. Tatiana Bordovitsina, an astronomy professor at Tomsk State University in western Siberia, told RIA-Novosti two hours before the ESA statement that the meteorite could’ve been debris preceding the asteroid, but she said that we needed a more thorough examination of the incident. NASA confirmed that 2012 DA14 isn’t on a collision course with the planet, but said that if the asteroid hit the Earth, the resulting explosion would be 1,000 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb that obliterated Hiroshima in 1945.
On Friday, health officials confirmed that a hail of meteorite fragments injured hundreds of people in central Russia. Various officials said that as of mid-day MSK, as many as 725 people, including up to 159 children, sought medical assistance in hard-hit Chelyabinsk Oblast because of the strikes. Figures on hospitalisation in the oblast varied significantly, from 34 to 112, with several reported to be in “serious” condition. Most people were hurt by shattering glass. President Vladimir Putin ordered EMERCOM officials to provide “immediate” assistance to the people affected by the meteorite. Gas supplies were cut off to hundreds of homes in Chelyabinsk as a safety precaution, and some 3,000 buildings were reported to have been damaged. The government mobilised an estimated 20,000 emergency response workers. Reportedly, background radiation levels remain unchanged. Both EMERCOM and Rosatom confirmed this, as the area has a fair number of nuclear facilities.
Reports about whether this was one large meteorite or many smaller ones initially varied, but Roscosmos confirmed by early afternoon that the object was a single meteorite, a report given earlier by EMERCOM. Yelena Smirnykh, deputy head of the EMERCOM press office, said, “Verified information indicates that this was one meteorite, which burned up as it approached Earth and disintegrated into smaller pieces”. Roscosmos stated that the meteorite fragments were moving at a speed of 30 kilometres per second.
A teacher in Chelyabinsk Oblast told RIA-Novosti, “All the city’s residents saw blinding flashes, very bright ones. Suddenly, it was very, very horribly bright. Not like the lights got turned on, but as if everything was illuminated with unusual white light”. Officials are trying to determine where the fragments landed. The governor of Chelyabinsk Oblast said that one had fallen in a lake in his oblast, whilst others were reported in Tyumen, Kurgan, and Sverdlovsk Oblasts as well. Police said an eight-metre-wide (26-feet-wide) crater was discovered near the Chelyabinsk lake. They reported that the radiation levels around the crater were normal.
Emergency officials in west Kazakhstan said that they were searching for two unidentified objects that fell in Aktobe Oblast. The European Space Agency (ESA) said that there was no link between the meteorite and the DA14 asteroid, which is due to pass close by the Earth later on Friday. NASA also said that there was no connection because the asteroid and the “Russian meteorite” are on “very different paths”. Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, speaking at an economic forum in Krasnoyarsk Krai in Siberia, called the meteorite “a symbol of the forum”, saying, “I hope that there’ll be no serious consequences, but it’s a demonstration that it isn’t only the economy that’s vulnerable, but our planet as well”.
On Friday, nationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, long known for his flamboyance and outrageous remarks, said that meteorite fragments hadn’t rained down on Russia in the morning, but that the light flashes and tremors in several oblasts resulted from American weapons tests. Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, told journalists several hours after EMERCOM began issuing statements on the incident, which injured hundreds and damaged scores of buildings, “Those aren’t meteors falling, it’s the Americans testing new weapons”. He also said that US Secretary of State John Kerry wanted to warn Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the “provocation” on Monday, but couldn’t reach him… a reference to US State Department comments earlier this week that Kerry had spent several days trying to speak to Lavrov by phone to discuss North Korea and Syria. Zhirinovsky went on to say, “Outer space has its own laws. Nothing will ever fall out there. If [something] falls, it’s people doing that. People who’re instigators of wars, provocateurs”.
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15 February 2013