A meteor shower rained down on central Russia on Friday, sparking panic as the hurtling space debris exploded in the air, blowing out windows and leaving hundreds injured.

Residents heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shock wave as they went to work in Chelyabinsk, an industrial city 1500 kilometres east of Moscow.

The meteor then raced across the horizon, leaving a long trail of white smoke in its wake which could be seen as far as 200 kilometres away in Yekaterinburg.

Car alarms went off, windows shattered and mobile phones worked only intermittently.

''I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day,'' said Viktor Prokofiev, a 36-year-old resident of Yekaterinburg. ''I felt like I was blinded by headlights.''

Most of those injured were treated for minor cuts and bruises from shattered glass, the local police department told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Windows were shattered on Chelyabinsk's central Lenin Street and some of the frames of shop fronts buckled.

''I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend,'' said Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name.

''Then there was a flash, and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shock wave that smashed windows.''

A wall was damaged at the nearby Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but there was no environmental threat, a plant spokeswoman said. A spokesman for Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy state corporation, said its operations remained unaffected. Agencies