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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Saudi Arabia : Dust forces residents to stay indoors


People can be forgiven for mistaking this Riyadh photos taken in the afternoon on Monday for night shots as streetlights struggle to pierce the darkness caused by the continued dust storm. Motorists 
By RIYADH/JEDDAH: KHALID TAWALBEH & DIANA AL-JASSEM | ARAB NEWS STAFF
Regions of the Kingdom are still exposed to heavy sandstorms and rapidly decreasing temperatures since the end of last week, forcing residents of cities to stay in their homes. Most of the main roads of the Kingdom were empty in addition to school closures.

The General Presidency for Meteorology and Environment Protection in their reports yesterday said wind movement had led to rising dust that limited visibility to less than 1 km.

This activity may result in dust storms accompanied by a significantly decrease in temperatures in most regions including Riyadh, Eastern Province, Qassim, Hail and Al-Jouf.

The northern outskirts of the Kingdom including Turaif, Qurayyat, Arar and Sakaka are expected to experience below-zero temperatures and heavy dust is also expected to reach the region of Najran and Asir highlands and even Makkah and Madinah, including the coastal areas and highways of those areas.

In a press statement, official spokesman of the General Presidency of Meteorology and Environment Protection Hussein Al-Qahtani said rising dust would affect the Kingdom till today.

Spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority Khaled Al-Khaibari said increased dust levels in the Kingdom since the end of last week did not affect flight schedules and travel between airports in the Kingdom. “However, visibility levels are very low in some airports and may decrease to as low as 500 meters,” he added.

He said the Kingdom's airports are equipped with sophisticated navigation guidance systems that help pilots with takeoffs and landings, stressing that caution and safety is paramount.

He added flights were only canceled when visibility was at less than 800 meters. Flights were canceled at Bisha and Najran airports, while there were delays at Taif and Arar airports.

The cold wave of dust caused schools to close down in the middle of its second semester in Riyadh and its surrounding areas on Sunday. Emergency rooms witnessed many cases of asthma and allergies. In the past 24 hours, 400 cases of asthma were registered in Jeddah, said Sami Badawood, director of Jeddah Health Affairs Management.

Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz hospital received 159 asthma patients, one of which was urgent. Al-Thagher hospital also received 17 cases, said Badawood, who added,  “Infants and kids were most affected by the dust storm, as Al-Mesadiyah children’s hospital received 43 cases and Al-Azizyah maternity and children’s hospital received 121 cases.” 

According to Badawood, Jeddah Health Affairs Management had already alerted the hospitals for the dust storm.

Civil Defense, Traffic Management, Ministry of Education and other sectors advised Jeddah schools and universities to cancel their classes. Officials in Madinah education department too canceled classes for the day.

The traffic authorities warned people to venture out only if necessary. “We are now in transition from one season to another. The Kingdom is affected by variation in temperature and dust storm. This is why we advise citizens to stay home,” said Zaid Al-Hamzi, director of Jeddah Traffic Management.

He added, “We send our reports to all parties and they respond accordingly. When there are indications of changes in the weather, we advice citizens not to go outdoors,” said Al-Hamzi.

Families and youths in Jeddah were calling for the suspension of their classes’ on social media. In Riyadh and Dammam classes had been suspended from Saturday already. Jokes and caricatures showed their anger over the late response from officials.

Traffic Management and Civil Defense would prefer classes to be suspended for the next two days. Actually, Civil Defense advised teachers and other school staff to stay home to avoid getting caught in the storm.

Traffic Management advised motorists to exercise caution, not to drive fast and use headlights to improve visibility.

The powerful sandstorm blowing over the Gulf has disrupted air traffic in Yemen, and affected other Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, where national weather centers warned drivers to use extra caution due to poor visibility and strong winds.

In Yemen, the sandstorm severely disrupted air traffic in and out of Sanaa's international airport. At least two flights into the Yemeni capital were cancelled on Monday morning while several others were either delayed or re-routed to the southern port city of Aden, the official SABA news agency reported.