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CHELYABINSK: Russian authorities halted their search yesterday for the meteorite that spectacularly struck the Urals last week, leaving about 1,200 people injured and damaging several thousand buildings.
The 10-tonne space rock streaked over the Chelyabinsk region in central Russia in a blinding fireball on Friday just as the world was braced for a close encounter with a large asteroid.
Residents of Chelyabinsk, a city of 1.1 million and the centre of Russia’s heavy industry, were struggling to pick up the pieces and replace thousands of blown-out windows in time for Monday, when schools are set to reopen.
Despite an intensive search of a frozen lake where fisherman found a large hole they thought was caused by the meteorite, no remnants have been found.
With air temperatures around minus 17 degrees Celsius, Russian divers spent Saturday scouring lake Chebarkul, about 60km from Chelyabinsk, but the emergency ministry has now decided to focus on repair works in the region instead, a spokesman said.
“Divers worked there, but we didn’t find anything,” said spokesman Vyacheslav Ladonkin. He said the ministry believed a circular eight-metre hole in the lake was not caused by any extraterrestrial body. “We believe it was caused by something else,” he said.
About 24,000 emergency workers were replacing smashed windows after nearly 5,000 buildings were damaged. The force blew out a large section of brick wall at the local zinc plant, and tore holes in the walls of the city’s ice skating and hockey centre, where several matches were cancelled.
Forty people remained in hospital yesterday, mostly with cuts, broken bones and concussion, a doctor told Rossiya Channel from the Chelyabinsk hospital said, while a special centre was opened to provide psychological help to those disturbed by the incident.
“There was a white streak. We thought it was a burning plane,” Vera, a patient who was brought to the hospital unconscious, told Rossiya as she recounted Friday’s drama. “Then there was a blast. And then I don’t remember,” she said from her hospital bed, apparently still dazed.
“We saw a bright light, it became as light as day for a few minutes. We couldn’t understand what it was,” another witness, 65-year-old Zoya Yermakova, said. Scientists at Nasa estimated that the amount of energy released in the atmosphere on Friday was about 30 times greater than the force of the nuclear bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II.