Flights diverted as sandstorm-hit Jeddah gropes in the dark


A massive sandstorm that enveloped much of the Middle East on Tuesday sent Jeddah into total darkness at 6 p.m.
The storm lasted for 40 minutes with sand-laden winds so ferocious that one could hear the rattling of windows in many neighborhoods.
Abdul Hameed Abal-Ari, a senior official at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, told local media that flights were suspended briefly. “Incoming flights were diverted to nearby airports, while some departures were suspended.”
He said seven flights were diverted to Madinah, Yanbu and Taif. “By 7 p.m., things were back to normal,” he said.
“It all happened in a matter of minutes,” said Sadiya Haneef, a resident of Al-Sulaimaniya district. “I could see from my balcony a mushroom-like apparition on the horizon. I thought it was smoke billowing from a faraway district,” she said.
Soon it was clear to her that it was a sandstorm. “I had to literally struggle to close the door to my balcony. The gusty winds had sent everything into darkness,” she said.
The experience in another neighborhood was equally bad. “My mother noticed dark clouds when she was seeing off my sister for evening classes,” said 13-year-old Mohammed Tareq.
“Within minutes, everything was hazy in Al-Aziziyah district and there was literally no visibility. It was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever experienced. It seemed apocalyptic.”
Civil Defense personnel received distress calls from residents who wanted to know what was happening.
Ali Al-Masry, a private sector employee, was upset there was no advance warning. “I have an asthmatic son and such conditions impact his health,” he said. “If I knew, I would take adequate precautions. Now I have to take him for nebulization to a local hospital.”
Earlier, the sandstorm engulfed parts of the Middle East and left at least two women dead in Lebanon and hundreds suffering from respiratory problems.
Large parts of Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Cyprus were shrouded in a thick cloud of dust from the storm that began sweeping into the region on Monday.


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