The impact: Lake Chebarkul. Photo: Reuters
The last time a disaster with global impact struck Chelyabinsk, officials covered it up for three decades. This time, they are marketing it to the world.
The meteoroid explosion over the former secret Soviet nuclear hub two weeks ago was recorded by scores of dashboard cameras and viewed by millions of people, providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attract international tourists and their money to the Russian region on the Asian edge of the Ural Mountains.
''Space sent us a gift and we need to make use of it. We need our own Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty,'' Natalia Gritsay, head of the region's tourism department, said on the way to Lake Chebarkul, where some of the biggest pieces of the meteorite have been found and where officials gathered last week to map a new strategy for economic development.
In 1957, an explosion at the Mayak nuclear processing plant, in northern Chelyabinsk, released tonnes of high-level radioactive waste that killed hundreds of people in what is now ranked by International Atomic Energy Agency standards as the third-worst atomic accident after Chernobyl, in Ukraine, and Fukushima, in Japan.
While the Soviets kept the Mayak leak a secret for more than 30 years, local officials are determined to capitalise on this latest apocalyptic event.
Proposals at the lakeside town of Chebarkul ranged from holding an annual ''cosmic music and fireworks festival'' to erecting a ''floating beacon-tipped pyramid'' on the lake.
One official suggested a ''meteor Disneyland'' to recreate the events of February 15, while another pressed for building a ''cosmic water park''. A third wanted to paint space landscapes on the facades of its drab Soviet-era buildings.
The most detailed proposals came from Chebarkul mayor Andrei Orlov, who urged regular and intensive discussions ''to keep the tourism idea alive''.
Mr Orlov plans to build a diving centre at the lake when the ice melts so tourists can search for meteorites.
''The first thing we need here are road signs in Russian and English, and cops who can say 'Hello' and 'OK' to foreigners,'' Mr Orlov said.
One local travel agency, Sputnik, is already organising summer tours for Japanese groups.
The local history museum has replaced its main attraction with a ''meteor day'' exhibit that includes a coin-sized meteorite surrounded by the front pages of various newspapers trumpeting the city's new claim to fame.