A fireball fell from the sky and slammed into southern Peru over the weekend, creating a huge crater that emitted a sickeningly smelly gas, local authorities said. More than 600 villagers fell ill, the Peruvian radio network RPP reported Tuesday.
Video reports from the scene, near the remote Andean village of Carancas along Peru's border with Bolivia, showed what appeared to be a 100-foot-wide (30-meter-wide), 20-foot-deep (6-meter-deep) impact crater with a bubbling pool of water at the bottom.
Authorities said that the crater was made Saturday by a falling meteorite. Agence France Presse quoted a local official, Marco Limache, as saying that "boiling water started coming out of the crater, and particles of rock and cinders were found nearby."
Limache told RPP that the gases emanating from the crater caused nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and stomach pain — so much so that authorities were considering calling a state of emergency. The newspaper La Republica reported that seven policemen became ill and were taken to a hospital.
Villagers decided not to drink the water in the area because they regarded it as contaminated in the wake of the impact, RPP reported. Experts from Peru's Geological, Mining and Metallurgical Institute, or Ingemmet, were reportedly on their way to the village in the country's Desaguadero region to evaluate the health risk.
If the impact was caused by a meteorite, sulfur or other elements in the space rock may have reacted with the ground water to produce noxious fumes.
RPP said 600 people were affected in one way or another. Jorge Lopez, health director in the Puno region, told Reuters that his team examined about 100 people who suffered vomiting and headaches. “People are scared,” he said.
“We ourselves went near the crater, and now we’ve got irritated throats and itching noses,” Lopez said.
This report includes information from Reuters and msnbc.com.