Meteorite Crash Causes 'Mystery Illness' in Peru

A supposed meteorite that crashed in southern Peru over the weekend has caused hundreds of people to suffer headaches, nausea and respiratory problems, a health official said Tuesday.

Local media have reported eyewitness accounts of a fiery ball falling from the sky and smashing into the desolate Andean plain near the Bolivian border Saturday morning. Officials have said it was a meteorite.

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Jorge Lopez, director of the health department in the southern state of Puno, told The Associated Press that 200 people have been sickened by "toxic" fumes emanating from the resulting crater, which is some 66 feet wide and 16 feet deep.

"This is caused by the gas they have inhaled after the crash," Lopez said. He added that some 1,500 people live nearby.

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But meteor expert Ursula Marvin, cast doubt on that theory, saying, "It wouldn't be the meteorite itself, but the dust it raises."

A meteorite "wouldn't get much gas out of the earth," said Marvin, who has studied the objects since 1961 at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Massachusetts. "It's a very superficial thing."

Three geologists from Peru's Geophysics Institute are expected to present a report on the incident on Thursday.

Hernando Tavera, a geophysicist at the institute, said similar cases were reported in 2002 and 2004 elsewhere in southern Peru but never confirmed as meteorites.