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Russia Begins to Clean Up After Massive Meteor Explosion

Moscow — The big blast from outer space was still reverberating in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk yesterday, 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 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 yesterday morning, “after Moscow woke up,” the projected price tag had doubled.

About 40 people remained in hospitals yesterday, 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 yesterday at Hospital No. 9 told Interfax she would recover.