Af­ter the blast, calls for cash

As Chelyabinsk res­i­dents re­cover, some fore­see a wind­fall

The Washington Post Sunday - - WEATHER - BY WILL ENGLUND en­glundw@wash­

The gov­er­nor of the Rus­sian re­gion where the me­te­orite struck es­ti­mates dam­age at $33 mil­lion.

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, res­i­dents found new ways to doubt the au­thor­i­ties and seem­ingly ev­ery­one looked ex­pec­tantly to Moscow for the flood of cash that rolls in on the heels of catas­tro­phe.

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 with the com­pen­sa­tion in store.

As early as Fri­day evening, the gov­er­nor had an­nounced that, through­out the city, 200,000 square me­ters of glass needed re­plac­ing. That’s just about 50 acres’ worth — all of it to be 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 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 dev­a­s­tat- ing 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 es­ti­mat­ing the costs of such a sys­tem to be 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 lighted 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 was 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 told In­ter­fax she would re­cover.

Although parts of a wall and roof at a zinc fac­tory col­lapsed, 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 per­fect-

“‘Force ma­jeure’ cir­cum­stances are al­ways a gift to the au­thor­i­ties, be­cause you can just write off ev­ery­thing that’s stolen.”

Gleb Pavlovsky, po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant in Moscow

ly 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 emp­ty­handed.

The me­teor, trav­el­ing at about 40,000 mph, un­leashed the en­ergy of 20 Hiroshima-size bombs as it det­o­nated in the at­mos­phere.

Shortly af­ter­ward, a mil­i­tary spokesman told news ser­vices that it had been shot down by an air de­fense unit. Later, an of­fi­cial with the Min­istry of Emer­gency Sit­u­a­tions said that text-mes­sage alerts had been sent out be­fore the big blast. Nei­ther as­ser­tion was true; both drew strong crit­i­cism and mock­ery on­line.

The text-mes­sage claim seems to have been in­spired by the fail­ure of of­fi­cials last sum­mer to warn res­i­dents of Krymsk, in south­ern Rus­sia, of a flood they knew was coming.

Re­mark­ably, the Min­istry of Emer­gency Sit­u­a­tions an­nounced Fri­day night that the of­fend­ing of­fi­cial — un­named — had been fired.

Sergei Parkhomenko, a former sci­ence ed­i­tor turned po­lit­i­cal writer, speak­ing on the Ekho Moskvy ra­dio sta­tion, said au­thor­i­ties had lived up to pop­u­lar ex­pec­ta­tions.

“As we can see, the first re­ac­tion is this: ‘Ev­ery­body lies,’ ” he said. “The sec­ond: ‘ Ev­ery­thing is stolen.’ That’s what we hear in re­sponse to var­i­ous state­ments by all of­fi­cials — lo­cal, re­gional and fed­eral. Peo­ple are treated with great dis­dain, and there is a huge va­ri­ety of fan­tasies, fears, some panic and so on. Why is this hap­pen­ing? From dis­trust.”

Of course, a me­teor streak­ing in un­bid­den from space on an oth­er­wise nor­mal day to shower de­struc­tion on a city of more than 1 mil­lion was un­nerv­ing enough on its own.

It was “the Lord’s mes­sage to hu­man­ity,” said Fe­o­fan, the Rus­sian Ortho­dox met­ro­pol­i­tan of Chelyabinsk and Zla­toust, in a state­ment re­ported by the RIA Novosti agency.

“From the scrip­tures, we know that the Lord of­ten sends peo­ple signs and warn­ings via nat­u­ral forces,” he said. “The me­te­orite is a re­minder that we live in a frag­ile and un­pre­dictable world.”


A man cov­ers a win­dow at a sports hall in Chelyabinsk, Rus­sia, that was dam­aged by a shock wave from a me­teor that passed over the city.

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