x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Sandstorm warning with wild winds in coming days

Sand and dust storms to continue as winds of 75kph and waves of 4.5m are recorded offshore.

ABU DHABI // Strong winds whipping up choking dust and sand into the air are likely to continue for another two days.

Offshore winds reached 70kph yesterday, causing waves of more than 4.5 metres.

The Sharjah coast bustled with ships trying to escape the high seas. Eight crew were injured when a tugboat was swept off its mooring in Hamriya. Four remain in Ajman’s Sheikh Khalifa hospital, and the others were treated and discharged.

The northwesterly wind lifted sand and dust into the air, especially in open areas such as the desert. Visibility was down to 800 metres in Jebel Ali yesterday morning, and drivers were urged to take extra care.

Hospitals and clinics reported a surge of patients, particularly children, with breathing difficulties.

“The patients who are the most at risk are children who have asthma,” said Dr Anwar Sallam, deputy chief medical officer at Mafraq Hospital.

“There is an exacerbation of wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath during this change of weather and sandstorms.

“We see many more children with asthma coming in for medication and some of the severe cases are advised to stay in the hospital.”

Doctors urged those susceptible to asthma, allergies and respiratory diseases to stay inside, especially in particularly dusty areas.

“The strong winds aggravate the sandstorm and carry dust with silica particles,” said Dr Bassam Mahboub, head of Dubai Hospital’s allergy and respiratory department and the vice chairman of the Emirates Allergy and Respiratory Society. “This is an irritant to normal people but can aggravate asthma, rhinitis and respiratory diseases.” He advised those on asthma medication to be sure to take it.

Parents also needed to watch out for flu and other viruses taking hold during the cold weather.

“This weather will not necessarily affect healthy children but they just need to be careful and not play in the sandstorm,” said Dr Sallam.

“This change of weather is an opportunity for viruses, so children could be affected by colds and flu. The rule of thumb in changing weather is to be prepared, and to avoid playing outdoors in sandstorms especially if you are an asthma patient.”

Dr Fatma Al Olama, head of Maternal and Child Health at the Dubai Health Authority, also said children were most at risk.

“Most parents are bringing in babies and children with wheezing and chest problems,” she said. “We advise parents to keep children prone to allergies at home.

“But when children go to school that is difficult because they will play outside. So parents must keep a watch so that any health problems do not worsen.”

In Sharjah, three large ships, four tugboats and two barges were anchored off the Corniche, with a further ship, two tugboats and a barge off the Hamriya shore. Also in that area, two workers were rescued by the coast guard after their barge got into trouble in high waves. Three barges were also reported to have anchored in Ras Al Khaimah.

Fishermen were warned to stay ashore, as crowds gathered along the Sharjah corniche for a look at the newly arrived ships.

Some tugboat crews struggled to berth their vessels, with heavy waves repeatedly pushing them on to the shoreline then pulling them back to sea.

At one point a crew looked poised to jump off their tugboat, only to be warned against it by a coastguard megaphone. “No one should jump,” cautioned the coastguard. “You are safe there on your boats, we are going to get you out – just be patient and wait, you are all men.”

Dubai municipality workers used sweeper machines to clear main roads on Saturday night and yesterday morning. The worst affected was the road leading to Sheikh Maktoum International Airport, although arterial roads were not closed.

“Most of the sand seems to have settled on the road to the Sheikh Maktoum airport,” said Yaqoob Al Ali, the head of the Dubai Municipality’s specialised cleaning section. “Workers were at their job removing the sand in teams working throughout the night to clear the roads.”

Outdoors workers were advised to be on the lookout for flying debris, and to ensure their harnesses were secure.

Visibility in some interior areas is expected to fall to 3km today. There will also be an increase in humidity at night and early in the morning, especially in inland areas.

Police urged motorists to drive carefully and keep a safe distance between cars.

“Drivers are advised against using hazard lights,” said Lt Imran Abdullah of Dubai traffic police. “When there is low visibility, it is better for them to stop on the side of the road and wait until the weather conditions are better for driving.”

Yesterday’s top temperature was expected to be between 22°C and 25°C, with a low of between 8°C and 15°C, according to the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology (NCMS).

Today and tomorrow the temperature is expected to drop to between 8°C and 19°C in the interior and 11°C-17°C on the coast.

The lowest temperature recorded yesterday was 1.2°C in Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah.

The northwesterly winds will continue, with winds gradually dropping to between 25 and 35kph, especially over land. However, over the sea there will be strong winds of up to 55kph.