MOSCOW – A heavy meteor shower rained down on central Russia on Friday, sowing panic as the hurtling space debris smashed windows and injured hundreds of locals, officials said.
Television footage showed morning traffic grinding to a quick halt in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk as at least two blinding flashes lit up the blue sky, causing some to huddle in buildings for safety.
A medical source said that 400 people came to hospitals for medical treatment. The Emergencies Ministry confirmed that cellular telephone communications were temporarily cut.
“A meteor disintegrated above the Urals, partially burning up in the lower atmosphere,” the local office of the ministry said in a statement.
“Fragments of the meteor reached Earth, falling in sparsely populated areas in the Chelyabinsk region,” it said.
Officials said a part of the meteor fell 80 km from the town of Satki, which lies 100 km west of the regional center.
Schools were closed for the day across the region after the impact blew out windows of buildings.
Most of those injured were treated for minor cuts and bruises from shattered glass, the local police department told RIA Novosti news agency.
The Chelyabinsk region is Russia’s industrial heartland.
The Emergencies Ministry said 20,000 rescue workers had been dispatched to help the injured. The Defense Ministry also sent soldiers to the sites of impact.