A massive meteor shower slammed into Earth near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, located about 1,000 miles east of Moscow in the Ural Mountains.
Dashboard cameras captured a blinding flash of light streaking across the sky. Moments later, the fragments smashed into the ground. The impact, and the sonic boom of the meteor entering the atmosphere, shattered windows around the city and knocked over a wall at a zinc factory.
Witnesses said they thought a war had broken out.
"I saw a body moving in the skies. In a moment there came a flash - we first thought it was fireworks but a moment later we saw a trace as if from the rocket followed by an explosion in a couple of minutes. The window broke ... tea, bread, water - everything fell on the floor," one restaurant waiter in Chelyabinsk said.
Officials told the Russian news agency Interfax that more than 500 people were injured, most by broken glass. Of the 12 people hospitalized, at least three of them were in serious condition.
SEE PHOTOS: Meteorite Crashes in Russia
One scientist told Russian television the meteor was a big one, weighing perhaps tens of tons, but stressed that it was not related to the asteroid that is expected to buzz close to Earth later today.
Regional officials said the one large fragment fell in a lake, but debris had been reported in three parts of Russia and in Kazakhstan.
Schools in the region closed for the day after most of the windows were blown out, citing freezing temperatures, which were below zero degrees Fahrenheit during the day.
Debris from the meteor was found in three sites around the country, but emergency services say ground zero was Chebarkul Lake, just west of Chelyabinsk.
The meteor knocked out cell phone networks, but electricity and water supplies were not affected. Rosatom said all its nuclear power facilities were functioning normally.