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 258 schoolchildren were among those injured. Amateur video footage showed a teacher speaking to her class as a powerful shockwave hit the room.
Yekaterina Melikhova, a high school student whose nose was bloody and whose upper lip was covered with a bandage, said she was in her geography class when a bright light flashed outside.
“After the flash, nothing happened for about three minutes. Then we rushed outdoors. I was not alone, I was there with Katya. The door was made of glass, a shock wave made it hit us,” she said.
Russian television ran footage of athletes at a city sports arena who were showered by shards of glass from huge windows. Some of them were still bleeding.
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.
The vast implosion of glass windows exposed many residents to the bitter cold as temperatures in the city were expected to plummet to minus 20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) overnight.
The regional governor immediately urged any worker who can pane windows to rush to the area to help out.
Meteroids are small pieces of space debris — usually parts of comets or asteroids — that are on a collision course with the Earth. They become meteors when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere, but if they survive the frictional heating and strike the surface of the Earth they are called meteorites.
The site of Friday’s spectacular show is about 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) west of Tunguska, which in 1908 was the site of the largest recorded explosion of a space object plunging to Earth. That blast, attributed to a comet or asteroid fragment, is generally estimated to have been about 10 megatons; it leveled some 80 million trees.
Scientists believe that a far larger meteorite strike on what today is Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. According to that theory, the impact would have thrown up vast amounts of dust that blanketed the sky for decades and altered the climate on Earth.
The meteor could have produced much more serious problems. Chelyabinsk is an industrial town long held to be one of the world’s most polluted areas, and the area around it hosts nuclear and chemical weapons disposal facilities.
Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said the Russian government has underestimated potential risks of the region. He noted that the meteor struck only 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Mayak nuclear storage and disposal facility, which holds dozens of tons of weapons-grade plutonium.
A chemical weapons disposal facility at Shchuchye also contains some 6,000 tons (5,460 metric tons) of nerve agents, including sarin and VX, about 14 percent of the chemical weapons that Russia is committed to destroy.
The panic and confusion that followed Friday’s meteorite crash quickly gave way to typical Russian black humor and entrepreneurial instincts.