February 17, 2013

After the fireball: Meteor cleanup, Russian style

Some see the disaster as an opportunity to place very large orders for aid from Moscow.

The Washington Post

MOSCOW - The big blast from outer space was still reverberating in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Saturday, as glaziers went to work replacing windows, divers vainly sought meteorite fragments at the bottom of a lake, doctors tended the wounded and seemingly everyone looked expectantly to Moscow for the flood of cash that rolls in on the heels of catastrophe.

click image to enlarge

Municipal workers repair a damaged electrical power circuit outside a zinc factory where a roof and wall collapsed, in Chelyabinsk city, Russia, after a meteorite exploded in the sky Friday. Observers say it was close to a miracle that no one was killed by flying glass, with 50 acres’ worth in need of replacement.

The Associated Press

FIREBALL LIGHTS UP NIGHT SKY OVER NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

SAN FRANCISCO - Hours after a meteor exploded over Russia and injured more than 1,000 people and an asteroid passed relatively close to Earth, residents in California reported seeing an unusual flash of light over the San Francisco Bay area that left many startled and thrilled.

Based on reports, the light streaking in the Northern California sky was a sporadic meteor, or fireball, and not a major event, said Mike Hankey, operations manager for the American Meteor Society, based in Genesee, N.Y. The group recorded at least 35 reports of the event, he said.

-- The Associated Press

Regional Gov. Mikhail Yurevich felt the need to deny that some residents had broken their own windows in the aftermath of Friday's meteor to qualify for financial assistance. Even if that were true, though, it would be small potatoes compared to the compensation in store.

As early as Friday evening, the governor had announced that, throughout the city, 200,000 square meters of glass would have to be replaced. That's just about 50 acres' worth -- all of it paid for by the government. That no one could have made such a calculation with any degree of accuracy in just a few hours was beside the point. Here was an unexpected opportunity to place a very large order.

Yurevich estimated the total damage at about $33 million, but several officials suggested that figure will rise.

" 'Force majeure' circumstances are always a gift to the authorities," said Gleb Pavlovsky, a leading political consultant in Moscow, "because you can just write off everything that's stolen."

Mere hours after the meteor streaked across the sky and then broke into pieces with devastating force, Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy prime minister, pushed for plans for a terrestrial defense system to protect against future meteors, asteroids and comets and their sonic booms. As of Friday night, Pavlovsky said, government scientists were saying those plans would cost about $2 billion, but on Saturday morning, "after Moscow woke up," the projected price tag had doubled.

About 40 people remained in hospitals Saturday, out of 1,200 who had sought treatment for injuries; one woman was evacuated to Moscow in serious condition. Yurevich was not the only person to observe that it was close to a miracle no one had been killed by flying glass.

At School No. 37 in Chelyabinsk, a quick-thinking substitute teacher, Yulia Karbysheva, got all 44 of her fourth-graders out of harm's way as the meteor lit up the sky, the Interfax news agency reported. After the intense bright flash of its explosion, the children rushed to the windows, but before the shock wave could hit, she commanded them to get under their desks.

Karbysheva herself was then showered with glass and debris, but the children were unharmed. With a cut to a tendon in her left hand and a gash on her left thigh, she led her class to safety outdoors. The doctor treating her Saturday at Hospital No. 9 said she would recover.

The most badly damaged building in the city was the Ice Palace, a skating arena. The governor said it will require at least $6 million in publicly financed repairs.

About 20,000 police and emergency workers were mobilized to get the city and region back in order. A team of nine glaziers flew in from the city of Tyumen to help with the windows. Meanwhile, with a perfectly round hole about 20 feet across having suddenly appeared in a frozen lake outside Chelyabinsk city, divers went searching for meteorite fragments, but they came up empty-handed.

 

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