x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Sandstorms trigger traffic and health alert

Police increase warnings for motorists to drive safely and health authorities advise people with respiratory conditions to stay indoors until sandstorms pass.

Sandstorms were expected to continue to buffet the country over the next few days as police warned motorists to drive safely and health authorities advised people with respiratory conditions to stay indoors.

Yesterday's swirling sands disrupted traffic across the UAE, although no road accidents were reported.

High winds forced the closure of Dubai's Global Village because of safety concerns, rough seas shut beaches and the inclement weather affected thousands of charity walkers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as competitors in the RAK Half Marathon.

Hospitals also reported a surge in the number of patients with breathing problems.

The National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology said the sandstorms had reduced visibility to 300 metres at Jebel Ali and less than 1,000 metres across the country. The conditions prompted Dubai Police to broadcast radio messages warning motorists to take care on the roads.

Visibility on Sheikh Zayed Road was so low at one point that some drivers had difficulty staying on the motorway.

"You can't see more than 200 metres ahead, the sand just enters your eyes," said Joaquim Carvalho, a pizza delivery worker. "The roads are most dangerous with all the sand because I may drive slowly but others will not. "

Choppy waves caused by the strong southerly winds forced authorities to close beaches. Red flags were hoisted at Abu Dhabi beach preventing people from swimming. Beachgoers, including some of the 18,000 participants in the Terry Fox Run along Abu Dhabi's Corniche, had to battle the flying sand.

"The temperature was great earlier, but now it's almost like it's raining sand," said Haya Ahmed, 24. "We're all covered in sand before even reaching the beach."

In Dubai, a haze enveloped Jumeirah Beach Road as more than 3,500 walkers soldiered on in a three-kilometre Walk for Education, organised by Dubai Cares. The event was to increase awareness about the distance millions of children across the world must walk to reach school.

"It's so hot and hazy but I'm glad we came because it's for a good cause," said Peter Declan, a Briton who participated with two daughters wearing wide hats and scarves to ward off the blowing sand.

"I've been telling my daughters that we get a few bad days here but in many parts of the world children walk in terrible conditions every day."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain said there were "a lot" of patients arriving at the hospital to request treatment for respiratory problems.

An on-call nurse at Mafraq Hospital's emergency department also said the sandstorms had increased the number of chest infections, particularly in children.

She advised people with respiratory problems not to go outside until the weather cleared.

High north-westerly winds are expected to blow in over the next few days. Temperatures are expected to drop again by Monday, and the sea is expected to become rougher.