CHELYABINSK, Russia – Michael Garnett had hit the snooze button on his alarm clock, hoping to catch a few more minutes of sleep before heading to hockey practice Friday morning, when a tremendous blast jolted him out of bed.
The walls of his apartment in Chelyabinsk — the biggest city affected by a meteor that streaked over Russia’s Ural Mountains — were shuddering as he heard glass shattering and car alarms going off outside.
“My light fixtures were swaying back and forth. At that point I was just terrified,” said the Saskatoon native, who plays in the professional Kontinental Hockey League for the Traktor Chelyabinsk.
“I thought either it was an explosion or a plane crash.”
When he was able to collect himself, the 30-year-old looked out his window and saw a trace of the meteor that had torn through the sky moments earlier.
“I saw a huge streak across the sky. I didn’t really know what was going on,” he said.
The Russian Academy of Sciences said the meteor — estimated to be about 10 tons — entered the Earth’s atmosphere going at least 54,000 kilometres per hour. It shattered about 30-50 kilometres above the ground, its sonic booms blasting out countless windows, damaging vehicles and other property.
By Friday evening local time, a health official in Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million about 1,500 kilometres east of Moscow, said 985 people had asked for medical assistance and 43 were hospitalized for injuries related to the meteor’s explosion. Many were treated for cuts from broken glass.
It was not immediately clear if any people were struck by space fragments.
Garnett decided to drive hockey practice less than an hour after being woken by the meteor’s fall to find out more about what had happened.
“It was like a bomb went off, you drive down the street and you look up at the apartments, and a lot of these buildings are from the Soviet era, and there’s just windows blown out. It’s just crazy.” he said.
When he got to the arena he plays in, some of Garnett’s teammates told him they’d seen the meteor explode.
“They were driving on the street when this happened and they saw it,” he recounted.
“It was just a giant fireball basically coming through the sky that lit up the entire sky, brighter than the sun, like a blinding light that shot across, left a huge tail and then was followed by a huge boom.”
The team’s arena was among the 3,000 buildings that were damaged in the city, but Garnett said no one he knew was among the injured.
The Canadian goalie has played in Chelyabinsk for two seasons and has played in Russia for five. He played briefly in the NHL for the Atlanta Thrashers in 2005-06.
As the city he lives in scrambles to deal with Friday’s near-surreal experience, Garnett and his teammates are trying to focus on getting back on the ice once their arena re-opens.
“It was a little strange. But what do you do?” he said. “Life goes on I guess.”
— By Diana Mehta in Toronto
Friday, February 15, 2013