A series of explosions in the skies of Russia’s Urals region, reportedly caused by a meteor shower, has sparked panic in three major cities. Witnesses said that houses shuddered, windows were blown out and cellphones stopped working.
According to unconfirmed reports, the meteorite was intercepted by an air defense unit at the Urzhumka settlement near Chelyabinsk. A missile salvo reportedly blew the meteorite into pieces at an altitude of 20 kilometers.
A bright flash was seen in the Chelyabinsk, Tyumen and Sverdlovsk regions, Russia’s Republic of Bashkiria and in northern Kazakhstan.
Lifenews tabloid reported that at least one piece of the fallen object caused damage on the ground in Chelyabinsk. According to preliminary reports, it crashed into a wall near a zinc factory, disrupting the fiber-optic connections of internet providers and mobile operators.
Witnesses said the explosion was so loud that it resembled an earthquake and thunder at the same time, and that there were huge trails of smoke across the sky. Others reported seeing burning objects fall to earth.
Police in the Chelyabinsk region are reportedly on high alert, and have enacted the ‘Fortress’ plan in order to protect vital infrastructure.
Office buildings in downtown Chelyabinsk are being evacuated. Injuries were reported at one of the city’s secondary schools, supposedly from smashed windows. No other injuries have been reported so far.
An emergency message published on the website of the Chelyabinsk regional authority urged residents to pick up their children from school and remain at home if possible.
The regional Emergency Ministry said the phenomenon was a meteorite shower, but locals have speculated that it was a military fighter jet crash or a missile explosion.
“According to preliminary data, the flashes seen over the Urals were caused by [a] meteorite shower," the Emergency Ministry told Itar-Tass news agency.
The Emergency Ministry reported that no civil aircraft were damaged by the meteorite shower, and that “all flights proceed according to schedule.” No local power stations were damaged, either.
Residents of the town of Emanzhilinsk, some 50 kilometers from Chelyabinsk, said they witnessed a flying object that suddenly burst into flames, broke apart and fell to earth. A black cloud was reported hanging above the town.
Witnesses in Chelyabinsk said the city’s air smells like gunpowder.
Many locals reported that the explosion rattled their houses and smashed windows.
“This explosion, my ears popped, windows were smashed… phone doesn’t work,” Evgeniya Gabun wrote on Twitter.
“My window smashed, I am all shaking! Everybody says, that a plane crashed,” Twitter user Katya Grechannikova reported.