Chelyabinsk city authorities urged people to stay indoors unless they needed to pick up their children from schools and kindergartens. They said what sounded like a blast had been heard at an altitude of 10,000 metres (32,800 feet).
A wall was damaged at the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but a spokeswoman said there was no environmental threat.
Although a rare occurrence, a meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km (1,250 miles) in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 200 km (125 miles) from the point of impact.
The Emergencies Ministry described Friday’s events as a “meteor shower in the form of fireballs” and said background radiation levels were normal. It urged residents not to panic.
Simon Goodwin, an astrophysics expert from Britain’s University of Sheffield, said it was estimated between 1,000 and 10,000 tonnes of material rained down from space onto the earth every day, but most burned up in the atmosphere.
“While events this big are rare, an impact that could cause damage and death could happen every century or so,” he said. “Unfortunately there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop impacts.”
The meteor struck just as an asteroid known as 2012 DA14, about 46 metres in diameter was due to pass closer to earth than any other known object of its size since scientists began routinely monitoring them about 15 years ago.
The small asteroid was expected to pass at a distance of 27,520 km (17,100 miles) from earth on Friday.