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Meteor shower prompts panic in central Russia

A meteor shower has rained down on central Russia, reportedly injuring hundreds of people and causing widespread damage. The event is not related to the asteroid set to pass over the Earth late Friday.

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The Russian Interior Ministry announced that about 1,000 people were injured early Friday when meteor fragments hit the sparsely populated Urals region of Chelyabinsk. Witnesses in the Ural region reported flashes and sharp explosions in the morning sky.

Most of those injured were treated for minor cuts and bruises from shattered glass broken by the explosions, the local police department told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency. The impact reportedly blew out windows from a number of buildings, although the extent of the damage remains unclear.

"A meteorite disintegrated above the Urals [mountain range in central Russia], partially burning up in the lower atmosphere," the local office of the national Emergencies Ministry announced in a statement.

"At 11 a.m. local time [0500 GMT] we received numerous calls of panic, power cuts and contusions," the Interfax news agency quoted the local government as saying.

A nuclear power plant in the region is thought to have been unaffected.

A six-meter wide (20 foot) hole was later found in a frozen lake outside of the town of Chebarkul in the same region, according to the local governor's office.

ccp/mkg (AFP, AP, Reuters)