Moscow: Over 1,000 people, including more than 200 children, were injured Friday in a freak incident when a meteor weighing about 10 tons streaked across the sky above Russia's Ural Mountains, creating panic as shockwaves blasted windows and rocked buildings.
Most of those hurt suffered minor cuts and bruises but some received head injuries, Russian officials said.
Gas supplies were cut off to hundreds of homes in the Chelyabinsk region as a safety precaution and some 3,000 buildings were reported to have been damaged, Ria Novosti news agency quoted officials as saying.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at an economic forum going on in Siberia's Krasnoyarsk region, called the meteorite "a symbol of the forum".
"I hope that there will be no serious consequences, but it is a demonstration that it is not only the economy that is vulnerable, but our planet as well," he said.
Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed the object that crashed in the Chelyabinsk region is a meteorite. They said in a statement "According to preliminary estimates, this space object is of non-technogenic origin and qualifies as a meteorite. It was moving at a low trajectory with a speed of about 30 km/s."
The Russian Academy of Sciences estimates that the meteor weighed about 10 tons and entered the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of at least 54,000 kmph.
It would have shattered about 30-50 km above ground, with most of the meteor burning up.
Russian Army units found three meteorite debris impact sites, two of which are in an area near Chebarkul Lake, west of Chelyabinsk. The third site was found some 80 kilometers further to the northwest, near the town of Zlatoust.
The Russian Army has joined the rescue operation. Army units are searching for meteorite debris in several places in Chelyabinsk region and in the neighbouring Tyumen region.
The Emergency Ministry reported that 20,000 rescue workers are operating in the region. Three aircraft were deployed to survey the area and locate other possible impact locations.
Radiation, chemical and biological protection units have been put on high alert in the area. As the explosion has occurred several kilometers above ground, a large ground area has to be thoroughly checked for radiation and other threats. Witnesses in Chelyabinsk reported hearing a huge blast early in the morning and feeling a shock wave in a 19-storey building in the town center.
The residents in the region also reported occurrences like shaking ground, windows being shattered and car alarms being set off during the shower.