A plunging meteor exploded with a blinding flash above central Russia on Friday, sowing panic as the hurtling space debris set off a shockwave that smashed windows and left over 250 people injured.
Morning traffic ground to a sudden halt in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk as the falling meteor partially burned up in the lower atmosphere above the city and lit up the morning sky, television footage showed.
The interior ministry said more than 250 people were wounded, three of them seriously, by the shockwave in Chelyabinsk and a half dozen other towns. The emergencies ministry said mobile communications were temporarily cut.
"At 9.20am (3.20am GMT) an object was observed above Chelyabinsk which flew by at great speed and left a trail behind. Within two minutes there were two bangs," regional emergencies official Yuri Burenko said in a statement.
"The shockwave broke glass in Chelyabinsk and a number of other towns in the region," he said.
Initial reports said a part of the meteorite fell 80 kilometres from the town of Satki, itself 100 kilometres west of the regional centre, but this has not been officially confirmed.
"There were thousands of phone calls that something was found and the forest is burning. But there is still no confirmed information that something fell" to the Earth's surface, said Burenko.
There were no reports that any locals had been hurt directly by a falling piece of meteorite. The defence ministry meanwhile said it had sent soldiers "to the sites of impact", without giving further details.
It was not clear if the meteor was linked to the asteroid 2012 DA 14 which is expected to pass about 27 000 kilometres above the Earth later Friday in a unusually close approach to the Earth.
The meteor "was quite a large object with a mass of several dozen tons," estimated Russian astronomer Sergei Smirnov of the Pulkovo observatory in an interview with the Rossia 24 channel.
Schools were closed for the day across the region after the shock wave blew out windows of buildings amid temperatures as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius.
The local post service said several of its buildings had been damaged while the stadium of Chelyabinsk's Traktor ice hockey side was also hit, forcing the cancellation of a match.
State television showed a part of the roof and a wall shorn off a brick zinc factory in the city of Chelyabink, although officials said no one was injured in that case.
Other images showed people with bloodied faces and at least one child's back covered with blood.
Most of those injured were treated for minor cuts and bruises from shattered glass, the local police department told the RIA Novosti news agency.
"There was a very bright flash and then two or three minutes later, we were knocked back by a shock wave," a young man told Rossiya state television. Another man said "at first I thought it was a plane".
Another woman told the station "that only God saved me" from getting hurt when the windows of her bedroom blew out.
With the extraordinary event already becoming a leading trend on Twitter locals posted amateur footage posted on YouTube showed men swearing in surprise and fright, and others grinding their cars to a halt.
The Chelyabinsk region is Russia's industrial heartland, filled with smoke-chugging factories and other huge facilities that include a nuclear power plant and the massive Mayak atomic waste storage and treatment centre.
A spokesperson for Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy state corporation, said that its operations remained unaffected.
"All Rosatom enterprises located in the Urals region - including the Mayak complex - are working as normal," an unnamed Rosatom spokesman told Interfax.
The emergencies ministry said radiation levels in the region also did not change and that 20 000 rescue workers had been dispatched to help the injured and locate those requiring help.
Page two: Amazing videos of the incident