CHELYABINSK, Russia – As a small army of people worked to replace acres of windows shattered by the enormous explosion from a meteor, many joked Saturday about what had happened in this troubled pocket of Russia.
One of the most popular jests: Residents of the meteor were terrified to see Chelyabinsk approaching.
The fireball that streaked into the sky over this tough industrial city about sunrise Friday was undeniably traumatic. Nearly 1,200 people were reported injured by the shock wave from the explosion, estimated to be as strong as 20 Hiroshima atomic bombs.
But it also brought a sense of cooperation in a troubled region. Large numbers of volunteers came forward to help fix the damage caused by the explosion and many residents came together on the Internet – first to find out what happened and soon to make jokes.
Chelyabinsk, nicknamed Tankograd because it produced the famed Soviet T-34 tanks, can be as grim as its backbone heavy industries.
The city is a place where people always seem bitter with each other, music teacher Ilya Shibanov said. But the meteor was one of the rare times when people started to live together through one event.
For most people, it’s a good excuse for a joke, he said.
But for many, it’s been a reason to roll up their sleeves and get to work repairing the more than 4,000 buildings in the city and region where windows were shattered, or to provide other services.
More than 24,000 people, including volunteers, have mobilized in the region to cover windows, gather warm clothes and food, and make other relief efforts, the regional governor’s office said. Crews from glass companies in adjacent regions were being flown in.
Gov. Mikhail Yurevich on Saturday said that damage from the high-altitude explosion – believed to have been as powerful as 20 Hiroshima bombs – is estimated at $33 million. He promised to have all the broken windows replaced within a week.
Meanwhile, the search continued for major fragments of the meteor.
In the town of Chebarkul, 50 miles west of Chelyabinsk city, divers explored the bottom of an ice-crusted lake looking for meteor fragments believed to have fallen there, leaving a 20-foot-wide hole. Emergency Ministry spokeswoman Irina Rossius told Russian news agencies the search hadn’t found anything.
Valery Fomichov said he had been out for a run when the meteor streaked across the sky shortly after sunrise.
I glanced up and saw a glowing dot in the west. And it got bigger and bigger, like a soccer ball, until it became blindingly white and I turned away, he said.