LIMA (AFP) — Scientists on Tuesday investigated a deep crater created by a meteorite strike in southeastern Peru that left 200 villagers sick from powerful fumes emanating from the crash site.
Scores of residents of the farming village of Carancas began vomiting and complaining of headaches and dizziness after the space object struck the area Saturday, creating an eight-meter (26-foot) deep, 20-meter (65-foot) wide crater.
Seven police officers who went to crater were given oxygen taken to hospital after suffering from similar symptoms.
Villagers now fear that the fumes may have exposed them to long-term health problems, while some are also concerned that more objects could fall from space. Local residents said they heard an explosion and felt the ground shake after the meteorite crashed.
The fumes from the crater are so strong that one scientist reported feeling irritation in his nose and throat even though he was wearing a mask.
Pictures showed a muddy pool of water inside the crater.
Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute engineer Renan Ramirez said a team of scientists found no radiation at the crash site and confirmed that the crater was not created by a fallen satellite.
"If it had been the case (a satellite crash), the strike would have let out radiation and contaminated the area," he said.
The illnesses that struck the local population may have been caused by sulfur, arsenic or other toxins that may have melted in the extreme heat produced by the meteorite strike, Ramirez said.
"It is a conventional meteorite that, when it struck, produced gases by fusing with elements of the terrain," he said.
Quispe said about 200 sick villagers are being treated and that Carancas residents fear that they fear long-term side effects.
There is also "a lot of panic and fear because villagers are afraid that other space objects could fall," Quispe told AFP.
Carancas residents have also reported a change in behavior among cattle and sheep that they say have been "acting strangely and refuse to eat," the mayor said.
Police have cordoned off the crater.
The director of the health ministry in the Puno region, Jorge Lopez, said none of the patients was in serious condition but that they would have to undergo blood and neurological tests as a precaution in three to six months.
A medical facility was installed in Carancas to treat the patients, and "if necessary, some will be sent to hospitals in Puno," the nearest big city, he said.
Lopez said that despite wearing a mask while he approached the crater, the fumes irritated his nose and throat.
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