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The Tunguska Event: Eyewitness Account

Semyon Borisovich Semyonov, Vanavara Trading Post

Correspondence with L. A. Kulik, 1927:

This was in 1908 in the month of June at about eight in the morning. At the time, I was living on the Stony Tunguska River, at the Vanavara trading station, and was working out of my own hut.

I was sitting on my porch facing north and then in an instant a fiery flare took shape in the northwest from which there came so much heat that it was impossible to remain sitting — my shirt nearly burst into flame while still on me. And what a glowing marvel it was! I saw that it covered a space no less than two versts. But then that flare existed only very briefly; I barely managed to cast my eyes at it and see what size it was, then it shut down in an instant.

After that shutdown, it got dark and at the same time there was an explosion that threw me from the porch, about a sazhen’ or more, but I didn’t remain unconscious for very long and when I came to there was such a noise that all the houses shook as if they were moving off their foundations. The glass in the houses shattered and in the middle of the square near the huts a strip of ground tore apart and at the same time the so-called iron hasp of the barn door also broke, although the lock remained intact.[1]

Interviewed by E. L. Krinov, 1930:

I don’t remember the year exactly, but more than twenty years ago, when the fallow land was being plowed up, at breakfast time I was sitting on the porch of the house at the Vanavara trading station and facing towards the north.

I had just raised my axe to hoop a cask when suddenly I noticed how in the north above Vasily Il’ich Onkoul’s Tunguska Road, the sky split in two, and in it, high and wide above the forest, a fire appeared. The heavens moved apart a great distance; the whole northern part of the sky was covered with fire.

At that moment I got so hot I couldn’t endure it, as if my shirt had burst into flame while still on me, and from out of the north, from where the fire was, there came an intense heat. I wanted to rip off my shirt and throw it away, but at that moment the sky slammed shut, and a mighty crash resounded and I was thrown about three sazhen’s to the ground. For a moment I lost consciousness, but my wife, running out, brought me back into the hut.

After the crash there came such a noise as if stones were falling, or a cannon was firing. The earth trembled, and while I lay on the ground I covered my head fearing that the stones might smash it.

At the moment when the sky opened, a hot wind, as if from a cannon, blew past the huts from the north. It left traces on the ground in the form of little paths, and damaged the growing onion plants.

Later, it turned out that many panes in the windows had been broken out, and the iron hasp in the door of the barn had been broken. At the moment when the fire appeared, I saw P. P. Kosolapov, who was working near the window of the hut, sit down on the ground, seize his head with both hands, and run into the hut. [2]


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[1] L. A. Kulik, “The Problem of the Impact Area of the Tunguska Meteorite of 1908,” Doklady Akademiya Nauk SSSR (A), No. 23, 1927, pp. 399-402. (an English translation by John W. Atwell may be found in Appendix B of John Baxter and Thomas Atkins, The Fire Came By: The Riddle of the Great Siberian Explosion, Doubleday, 1976, pp. 155-156.) [Return to text.]

[2] E. L. Krinov, Giant Meteorites, trans. J. S. Romankiewicz, Permagon 1966, pp. 147-8. [Return to text.]


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