Some 950 people were injured after a meteor shot across the sky in the central Russian region around the city of Chelyabinsk on Friday, sending fireballs crashing to Earth.
The rare event caused widespread panic in Russia's Urals, as the hurtling space debris set off explosions and shattered windows.
Reports of what exactly happened remain unclear, with a spokeswoman for the Emergency Ministry, Irina Rossius, telling The Associated Press that there was a meteor shower, but another ministry spokeswoman, Elena Smirnikh, told Interfax news agency that it was a single meteor.
Video footage broadcast on Russian television showed an intense flash as an object shot across the sky and left a long white trail in its wake at about 9:20 am local time (03:20 GMT).
Residents on their way to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave, according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 1,500 km (950 miles) east of Moscow.
Damage in six towns
At least three people suffered serious injuries after meteor fragments fell in a thinly populated area of the Chelyabinsk region, as damage was reported in six towns.
“There was panic. People had no idea what was happening. Everyone was going around to people's houses to check if they were OK,'' said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, about 1,500 kilometres east of Moscow, the biggest city in the affected region.”
“We saw a big burst of light then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud thundering sound,'' he said.
"I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," said Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains. "I felt like I was blinded by headlights," he added.
City authorities said more than 100 people had called for medical assistance following the incident, mostly for treatment of minor cuts and bruises.
Hit industrial heartland
The Chelyabinsk region is Russia's industrial heartland, awash with smoke-chugging factories and facilities that include a nuclear power plant and the massive Mayak atomic waste storage and treatment centre.
A spokesman 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 said.
Locals schools were closed for the day while soldiers were sent to the sites of impact, the defence ministry said.
Such incidents are rare. A meteorite is thought to have devastated an area covering more than 2,000 sq km (1,250 miles) in Siberia back in 1908, smashing windows as far as 200 km (125 miles) from the point of impact.
The meteor hit less than a day before the asteroid 2012 DA14 is due to make the closest recorded pass of an asteroid -- about 28,000 kilometres – however there was no immediate demonstrable connection.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)