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.
Atmospheric phenomena have been registered in the cities of Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg and Tyumen.
In Chelyabinsk, 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.
Office buildings in downtown Chelyabinsk are being evacuated. 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.
A meteor streaked across the sky over Russia’s Ural Mountains on Friday morning, causing sharp explosions and reportedly injuring around 100 people.
Fragments of the meteor fell in a thinly populated area of the Chelyabinsk region, the Emergency Ministry said in a statement.
Interior Ministry spokesman Vadim Kolesnikov said 102 people had called for medical assistance following the incident, mostly for treatment of injuries from glass broken by the explosions.
Kolsenikov also said about 600 square meters (6,000 square feet) of a roof at a zinc factory had collapsed.
Reports conflicted on what exactly happened in the clear skies. A spokeswoman for the Emergency Ministry, Irina Rossius, told The Associated Press that there was a meteor shower, but another ministry spokeswoman, Elena Smirnikh, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying it was a single meteorite.
Amateur video broadcast on Russian television showed an object speeding across the sky about 9:20 a.m. local time (0320 GMT), leaving a thick white contrail and an intense flash.