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Russia: 1,200 injured in meteor explosion in central Russia


MOSCOW, (Xinhua): About 1,200 people have been known injured and many buildings damaged since a meteor exploded on Friday morning, raining fireballs over Russia's central Urals region, the Interior Ministry said.

Most of the injured, among them 200 children, suffered cuts by broken glass from thousands of shattered windows during the very rare meteorite explosion, according to the ministry.

Residents in the region uploaded videos of a fireball cutting through the sky. The fireball, travelling at a speed of 30 km per second according to Russian space agency Roscosmos, had blazed across the horizon.

The main impact happened 80 km from the town of Satki in Chelyabinsk region. It has not been confirmed whether the damage was caused by the rock's impact or an airwave caused by its explosion in the lower layers of the atmosphere.

"What happened over the Urals region was not a meteor shower, as was reported earlier," Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Smirnykh told the Interfax news agency. "It was a single meteor which burned up as it passed through the lower layers of the Earth's atmosphere."

Emergency teams were on alert in the regions of Chelyabinsk, Kurgan, Sverdlovsk, Samara and Saratov, where meteorite pieces fell. Mobile phone networks were disrupted.

However, the authorities said the meteorite did not cause any major damage. "There is no damage to heating, gas supply, energy grids. All systems work properly," Chelyabinsk deputy governor Sergei Komyakov told reporters.

The Russian Defense Ministry also said in a press release that the accident caused no damage to the military units deployed in the Central Military District. "None of the personnel was injured," it said.

The rock could have weighed several dozens of tons, Sergei Smirnov, an expert from Pulkovo observatory, told the Russia-24 state TV channel. "During the impact, such a huge body becomes disintegrated with the velocity of the fragments reaching several kilometers per second," he said.

In an unrelated but also rare event, an asteroid half the size of a football field passed closer to the earth than any other known object of this size on Friday.

The Asteroid 2012 DA14 passed about 27,700 km from Earth at 1925 GMT.

"We have two rare events of near-Earth objects approaching the Earth on the same day," NASA scientist Paul Chodas said, stressing "it's simply a coincidence."

Experts said the two objects came from different directions at different speeds.

Meanwhile, a meteor-like object fell from the sky over central Cuba on Thursday night local time and turned into a fireball "bigger than the sun" before it exploded, a Cuban TV channel reported Friday, citing eyewitnesses.

One resident was quoted as saying that his house shook slightly in the blast.

It remains unknown whether the reported phenomenon in Cuba is related to the meteor strike in central Russia.

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