Russian region begins recovery from meteor fall

CHELYABINSK (AP) - A small army of workers set to work on Saturday to replace the estimated 200,000 sq m of windows shattered by the shock wave from a meteor that exploded over Russia's Chelyabinsk region.

The astonishing Friday morning event blew out windows in more than 4,000 buildings in the region, mostly in the capital city of the same name and injured some 1,200 people, largely with cuts from the flying glass.

Fifteen of the injured remained hospitalised on Saturday, one of them in a coma, the regional health ministry said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Regional governor Mikhail Yurevich said on Saturday that damage from the high-altitude explosion - estimated to have the force of 20 atomic bombs - is estimated at 1 billion rubles (S$40.8 million). He promised to have all the broken windows replaced within a week.

But that is a long wait in a frigid region. The mid-day temperature in Chelyabinsk was -12 deg Cel, and for many, the immediate task was to put up plastic sheeting and boards on shattered residential windows.

More than 24,000 people, including volunteers, have mobilised 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.

In the town of Chebarkul, 80 km west of Chelyabinsk city, divers explored the bottom of an ice-crusted lake looking for meteor fragments.

Police kept a small crowd of curious onlookers from venturing out onto the icy lake, where a tent was set up for the divers.

Many were still trying to process the memories of the strange day they'd lived through.

Mr 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.

In a local church, clergyman Sexton Sergei sought to derive a larger lesson.

"Perhaps God was giving a kind of sign, so that people don't simply think about their own trifles on earth, but rather look to the heavens once in a while," he said.