Post-meteor cooperation, jokes

A zinc factory in Chelyabinsk, Russia, whose roof collapsed from the meteor's booming shock wave Friday. More than 24,000 people got to work repairing 4,000 buildings and shattered windows and offering relief.
A zinc factory in Chelyabinsk, Russia, whose roof collapsed from the meteor's booming shock wave Friday. More than 24,000 people got to work repairing 4,000 buildings and shattered windows and offering relief. (LAURA MILLS / AP)

Dour residents of the grim Siberian city united to help fix damage, and crack wise on the event that caused it.

Posted: February 17, 2013

CHELYABINSK, Russia - As a small army of people worked to replace acres of windows shattered by the enormous explosion from a meteor, many joked Saturday about what had happened in this troubled pocket of Russia.

One of the most popular jests: Residents of the meteor were terrified to see Chelyabinsk approaching.

The fireball that streaked into the sky over this tough industrial city about sunrise Friday was undeniably traumatic. Nearly 1,200 people were reported injured by the shock wave from the explosion, estimated to be as strong as 20 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

But it also brought a sense of cooperation in a troubled region. Large numbers of volunteers came forward to help fix the damage caused by the explosion, and many residents came together on the Internet - first to find out what had happened and soon to make jokes.

Chelyabinsk, nicknamed Tankograd because it produced the famed Soviet T-34 tanks, can be as grim as its backbone heavy industries. Long winters where temperatures routinely hit minus-22 Fahrenheit add to a general dour mien, as do worries about dangerous facilities in the surrounding region.

In 1957, a waste tank at the Mayak nuclear weapons plant in the Chelyabinsk region exploded, contaminating 9,200 square miles and prompting authorities to evacuate 10,000 nearby residents. It is now Russia's main nuclear-waste-disposal facility. A vast plant for disposing of chemical weapons lies 50 miles east of the city.

"The city is a place where people always seem bitter with each other," said music teacher Ilya Shibanov. But the meteor "was one of the rare times when people started to live together through one event."

"For most people," he said, "it's a good excuse for a joke."

It was also a reason for Shibanov to quickly concoct a rap video that got wide Internet attention, including the lines: ""Pow, pow, pow - everything flew, and factory windows crumbled. This Friday the bars are going to be full, so be ready for the aftermath."

But for many, it has been a reason to roll up their sleeves and get to work repairing the more than 4,000 buildings in the city and region where windows were shattered, or to provide other services.

More than 24,000 people, including volunteers, have mobilized in the region to cover windows, gather warm clothes and food, and make other relief efforts, the regional governor's office said. Crews from glass companies in adjacent regions were being flown in.

Gov. Mikhail Yurevich said Saturday that damage from the high-altitude explosion - believed to have been as powerful as 20 Hiroshima bombs - was estimated at one billion rubles, or $33 million. He promised to have all the broken windows replaced within a week.

But that is a long wait in a frigid region. The midday temperature in Chelyabinsk was 10 F, and for many, the immediate task was to put up plastic sheeting and boards on shattered residential windows.

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