Petrol stations and cleaning companies enjoyed a boom in demand yesterday as residents took advantage of clearer weather to have dust removed from cars and other possessions. Abdul Kasim, who operates the "touch-less" washing bay at the Manasir area Adnoc in Abu Dhabi, said he had seen as many as 15 cars queuing to be cleaned with pressurised water. Some cars would wait "maybe 40 minutes", he said. But "some people have no time, so they go and come back again. It depends on traffic". In Dubai, a car-wash attendant said that business had increased to about 50 customers per shift from 30 to 40 before the storm. "They are coming with too much dirt on them," he said. One of the motorists was Ala Lababidi, a Syrian national working in the property sector, whose car had been parked outside all weekend. "The back window was especially clogged, as well as the other windows," he said. "The guy at the car wash even told me that the machine wash was not going to be enough to get all the dirt off." Abraham Philip, a car wash mechanic in Khalidiya in Abu Dhabi, said it was common for customers to wait out sandstorms before bringing their vehicles in for a wash. "Today the weather is clear, so too many cars are coming," he said. "When there is still dust, of course nobody will wash because this is a waste of money." Hotels, too, felt the effects of the storm. Charlotte Weatherall, the director of sales and marketing for Le Meridien Mina Seyahi and Westin Hotels in Dubai, said they had added more staff and intensified the daily cleaning programme. "This includes continuously dusting down the sunbeds, leaving the vacuums in the pools for longer, and the terrace areas being swept and cleaned more regularly, as well as cleaning and removal of debris." A plume of dust originating from northern Iraq began settling on the coast of the UAE more than a week ago. Over several days a thick haze covered the country, exacerbated by the virtual absence of winds to disperse it. Visibility on Sunday was down to 300m in the west and around 1,000m elsewhere, but gradually improved over the next days. Forecasters with the National Meteorological Centre predicted that most of the dust would be gone by today and visibility would be between 2,000m and 5,000m. The storm made things particularly difficult for maintenance staff at health clubs. Samer Massalkhi, the operations manager at the Abu Dhabi Country Club, said his staff were working hard to clean up tennis courts and swimming pools. At the Hiltonia Beach Club, Prasath Nandana, the recreation supervisor, said his 45 cleaners were working an extra four hours daily to ensure that the pools were pristine, the 900 beach umbrellas white and that both tennis courts were free of loose dust. "Generally, we're cleaning more on a weekly basis," he said. "But yesterday my boss said at 12 o'clock we should wash the tennis courts with high-powered spray because maybe it can be slippery with the sand. "You look and see the floor has yellow desert sand, but it should be green." In one of the pools he pointed to a small area of tan-coloured froth, explaining that it often took hours to remove because the dust was so fine and easily stirred back into the water. Specialist cleaners have also been busy. James Day, the general manager of Smashing Cleaning Services, a company in Dubai that specialises not only in exteriors, but also in cleaning media signs and air-conditioning systems, said companies that had neglected their outdoor advertising signs for more than six months, possibly to cut costs, were now rushing to get them cleaned. "The same applies to air-conditioning systems and lakes," he said, adding that the sandstorm could be described as a wake-up call to those who had not maintained a regular cleaning schedule. "Media signs are so in your face," he said. "Companies feel they have to be cleaned to prevent poor public perception." Vijaydeepa Pawar, the director of Al Bassim Building Cleaning and Technical Services, said the company had received 15 to 20 enquiries in the past two days alone, concerning exteriors, landscapes, car parks and villas. "This is by far the worst sandstorm I have seen in Dubai, and I've been here for the last eight years," he said. Fast Rent A Car, one of the country's biggest vehicle hire companies, said it had adjusted its car washing routine over the past few days. Rather than having just one person clean each car, the company has been assigning four people to each car before delivery. Ahmed Abood, the company's chief executive, said the change, while costly, was necessary "to ensure that our customers continue to receive their cars in immaculate condition". firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
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