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16 Feb, 2013 19:56

Post-meteorite Urals: Russian region cleans up fireball blast aftermath

Emergency workers and volunteers are repairing damaged buildings and replacing 200,000 square meters of glass in Russia’s Ural region hit by the fireball blast. While the damage costs have soared, there’s still no trace of the meteorite itself.

The Friday meteorite explosion injured nearly 1200 people and left thousands of homes exposed to a severe frost that reached as low as -20 degrees Celsius at night in some parts of the region.Official figures say 3724 houses, 671 education institutions and dozens of social, medical, sports and recreation facilities were damaged by the blast.Repair work in Chelyabinsk should be completed in three days, Russian Emergency Minister Vladimir Puchkov said on Saturday. He added that basic utilities such as power, transport and telephone lines are functioning normally and that “socially significant facilities” are the top priority of restoration efforts.

About 30 percent of the work has already been done, and all the damaged medical institutions have been repaired, the Governor of Chelyabinsk region Mikhail Yurevich said. He went on to describe February 15 as the city’s second birthday: “If the meteor, which exploded above us, was just a little bigger, it’s hard to imagine what could have happened to our towns and villages. The huge sum of 1 billion rubles needed to repair broken windows and damaged walls pales beside losses we could have had. The most important thing is that nobody died!” Hundreds of the region’s schools that saw their windows shattered are expected to be opened by Monday. Some of the 289 injured children won’t be attending classes that soon though, as they continue to receive treatment in hospitals.

Stories of heroic children rescue have appeared in the media. One teacher is said to have saved 44 school kids from injuries by telling them to hide beneath the desks and rushing to the door – only to be hit by a burst of glass shards. She, however, endured the pain and led the class out of the building unharmed. The teacher is now in hospital, according to Interfax. In the wake of the fireball conflicting reports said household owners in the region are encouraged to deal with the damage on their own. Meanwhile, insurance companies have refused to cover blast inflicted damages, defining the objects falling from sky as an Act of God, and ads offering urgent window repair have sprung up all over Chelyabinsk. Officials later said they will pay for all the repair work, prompting bloggers to joke that some people have started to smash their windows to get new double glazing for free. Such claims have since been dismissed by Chelyabinsk governor as “gossip.”But some people decided not to wait for the government’s help, and more than a thousand volunteers from all over the region have come to assist others with the cleanup and window repair. Both official and volunteer organizations continue to receive the calls from those willing to join the work and provide some humanitarian help.

Despite the vast amount of damage done, there’s still no sign of even the smallest bit of the meteorite that caused it. That fact alone has already fueled various conspiracy theories on the Internet.Six divers who spent three hours searching for the body’s fragments at the bottom of Chebarkul Lake have failed to find anything relevant, the Emergency Ministry reported. According to the report, water samples taken from the lake have also shown nothing unusual. Eventually, the 6 meter ice hole was rendered to have formed “because of a different reason.”The search for the meteorite parts has also been officially stopped in another two locations.  None of the findings that have been put on sale online, some of them priced as high as 300,000 rubles ($10,000), have so far been confirmed as fragments of a meteorite. Nevertheless, officials have urged people to give away 20% of any such fragments found, so they can be studied at research centers.