MOSCOW - People in a freezing industrial region of Russia saw a flash of blinding light before an explosion of flying glass Friday when a meteor streaked across the sky and blew up, injuring hundreds of people in what looked like a disaster out of a movie.
"I woke up hearing a blast. It felt like the whole building jumped up," said Igor Chudnovsky, a commercial director in the town of Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountain range. "I saw a light, it looked like it was from a nuclear explosion, like I had seen in documentaries."
As many as 1,000 people say they were hurt by glass that shattered from the sonic wave created by the explosion of the 11-ton meteor, Russia's Emergency Ministry said.
Fragments of the meteorite crashed over a thinly populated area of the Chelyabinsk region, a factory heartland 900 miles east of Moscow near the border of Kasakhstan. Shock waves from the exploding space rock blew out windows in schools, offices and residential buildings in freezing cold temperatures, reported RIA Novosti, the Russian state news agency.
Most of the wounded were cut from broken glass, Interior Ministry spokesman Vadim Kolesnikov said. Afterward, large holes were found in the ice of frozen lakes, and a huge section of a roof at a zinc factory had collapsed.
The meteorite rocketed into the atmosphere at 33,000 mph - or 10 miles per second - and shattered into pieces somewhere between 18-32 miles above the ground, the Russian Academy of Sciences said.
As it streaked across the clear morning sky, the meteorite left a trail of white cloud that could be seen across large parts of central Russia.
Video shows the meteorite growing from a tiny speck to a massive ball of fire, which then dips down beneath the horizon in a flash of light.
Cars with loudspeakers drove around the city during the day, telling people not to panic, but some did.
"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 930 miles east of Moscow, told the Associated Press.
Marat Lobkovsky said he was heading to a window to see what the flash was about.
"The window glass shattered, bouncing back on me.They patched me up. It's OK now," he said.
Elementary school student Yekaterina Smolina said he was in her classroom in Chelyabinsk when a bright light illuminated the outdoors.
"We ran outside to look and stood next to a glass door, which then shattered," said Smolina, who was cut slightly by flying shards.
"My first thought was that it was an airplane crash," Chudnovsky said. "There's a military aviation base nearby and we've already had cases of their planes crashing."
Chudnovsky said the landing windows in his building shattered when the explosion sounded and a friend of his who lives nearby was thrown out of his kitchen by the blast. Another acquaintance who was out driving in his car told him the blast felt like "a wave of heat."
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a nationalist leader known for outlandish comments, blamed the Americans.
"It's not meteors falling. It's the test of a new weapon by the Americans," RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the incident showed the need for leading world powers to develop a system to intercept objects falling from space.
"At the moment, neither we nor the Americans have such technologies" to shoot down meteors or asteroids, he said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Police said the meteorite had plunged into a frozen lake near the town of Chebarkul, creating an eight-meter wide crater. Radiation levels around the lake and across the area were reported to be normal.
Officials from Russia 's nuclear agency, Rosatom, said the meteorite had caused no damage to nuclear facilities in the area, which were all said to be operating as usual.
Father Igor Ivanov was carrying out a religious service in Chelyabinsk when the meteorite's sonic boom blew out two church windows.
"I only found it was a meteorite after the service," he said. "There is no panic in the city, but there is a sense of unease."
Officials sought to calm locals after rumors spread that a second meteorite was heading in their direction. A senior Chelyabinsk clergyman called the meteorite a message from God.
"From the Scriptures, we know that the Lord often sends people signs and warnings via natural forces," Metropolitan of Chelyabinsk and Zlatoust Feofan said. "For the whole of humanity, the meteorite is a reminder that we live in fragile and unpredictable world."
Gas supplies were cut off to hundreds of home in Chelyabinsk as a safety precaution and children were sent home from school after shattered windows left them exposed to temperatures of 4 below zero Fahrenheit. About 3,000 residential buildings were damaged by falling meteorite fragments averaging around 8 inches each in diameter, Chelyabinsk city officials said.
A large object believed to have been an asteroid flattened about 800 square miles near the Tunguska River in central Siberia in 1908, releasing the energy equivalent of 185 Hiroshima atomic bombs. The meteorite arrived just hours before an asteroid named the 2012 DA14 was due to come within 17,000 miles of Earth at 2:24 p.m. ET, a record close-approach for an asteroid this size.
Some in Russia thought they may get struck again.
"I'm very afraid," said Tamara Khabarova, a retiree from central Russia's Voronzeh region. "But what can we do? It's in God's hands."
Others saw the meteorite as a way to make a quick ruble. Alleged fragments of the meteorite were being sold online for a starting price of $15.
In Chelyabinsk, a window repair company took full advantage of the celestial visitor.
"Have your windows been shattered by the meteorite?" read an online advertisement. "This is an excellent chance to put in some plastic windows. Order some right now!"
By Anna Arutunyan and Marc Bennetts
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard, The Associated Press