A meteor crashed to Earth in central Russia, injuring about 1,000 people as the shock wave from a "biblical, cosmic" flash blew out windows, rocked buildings and led to fears that the world was coming to an end.
The meteoroid, weighing about 10 tons, entered the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of at least 53,000km/h, producing a sonic boom with shock waves that reached the ground.
It shattered into pieces at a height of between 25 and 40km, showering the Urals city of Chelyabinsk with debris. The sonic boom blew out windows and doors and several buildings were damaged.
Hundreds of people were injured, some with serious head wounds. Last night 110 victims remained in hospital, many of them children.
A chunk of the space debris apparently smashed into a frozen lake, leaving a 20ft-wide hole in the ice.
Video footage showed the meteor streaking through the sky at supersonic speed at about 9.20am local time and a bright light. It was followed by the sound of explosions and breaking glass.
Residents immediately expressed their shock and fear on social media. "I thought the world was about to end!" said one. A video clip showed men shouting "It's a bombardment!" as a noise like an explosion set off car alarms. A warehouse wall at a zinc factory collapsed and almost 300 buildings had windows blown out.
Anna Kolesnikova (31), a website editor who lives in Chelyabinsk, said: "I was getting ready for work when I looked out of the kitchen window and I saw this very bright light and thought, 'how sunny it is'. And then suddenly it faded, as if it was some kind of illusion.
"A minute later, I went into the other room and suddenly there was a loud explosion and the door to the balcony blew in. I crouched down out of fear.
"There was a series of smaller explosions, about five, and then I looked out and saw a trail of smoke in the sky. All the car alarms were going off. I thought maybe it was a military aircraft crashing, because they do test flights nearby."
Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, a city of one million about 1,100km east of Moscow, said: "There was panic. People had no idea what was happening.
"We saw a big burst of light, then went outside to see what it was and we heard a really loud, thundering sound."
A teenager who was meeting friends at a nearby stadium told teachers that they had felt a warm wind blowing on their faces after the flash in the sky.
Yevgeny Skorynin (30), a lawyer, said: "There was a light like a giant welding lamp and then a series of jolts. Some people thought it was an earthquake. Bits were falling off the ceiling in our office."
Schools closed because of the blown-out windows. About 20,000 rescue officials were put on high alert, while the city's internet and mobile telephone services were disrupted.
One scientist said the meteor probably weighed "a few tonnes" and was made of iron. Astronomers said it was not linked to the asteroid 2012 DA14, which was due to pass closer to the Earth than any other space body yesterday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)