Wednesday, March 11, 2009

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Pictured: The moment an awe-inspiring desert storm engulfed the Saudi capital
Ian Sparks

With terrifying majesty, a giant dust storm swept in from the desert and enveloped large parts of the Saudi capital Riyadh today.

The vast, whirling clouds cast an apocalyptic yellowish hue over the city's sprawling surburbs, choking residents with a blanket of grit and sand.

The awe-inspiring storm engulfed buildings and caused huge traffic jams as it enveloped the city of 4million people in a layer of impenetrable gloom.


A huge sand storm engulfs the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday. The storm, which was still raging hours after it started

Riyadh's airport was forced to halt flights as the swirling eddies of dust blacked out visibility from the control tower and on the main runways.

A civil aviation spokesman said: 'It was a very frightening spectacle as it approached the city.

'Outbound flights from Riyadh were suspended and incoming flights were diverted to other airports in the kingdom.'

Motorists said visibility on motorways was reduced a few metres as the storm blew in.

Flights were disrupted at the city's King Khalid International airport, with weather authorities announcing that visibility would drop to zero

Saudi in a sandstorm

A Saudi covers his face with his traditional headdress as the sandstorm colours the sky

Commuter Nasser Ahmed: 'Most drivers pulled over and shut their windows, while a few ploughed slowly on with their hazard lights on.'

Riyadh, situated in the middle of the Saudi desert, is used to regular sandstorms but today's was described as a 'monster'.

Government spokesman Major General Abdul Rahman Al-Moqbel told Arab News: 'It was enormous. One of the biggest we have seen.

Dust up: Saudis take photographs of The Kingdom Tower, left, while Cars jam a highway as a sandstorm colours their view and reduces visibility

A view of King Fahad street in central Riyadh as the city is engulfed

'Luckily there were no serious incidents because of awareness programmes carried out by the Traffic Department from time to time.'

An official from the Saudi Meteorological Department added: 'Sandstorms are due to high pressure in the northern and central parts of the Kingdom.

'This whips up the sand and then the wind can blow it for a hundred miles or more. Tuesday's storm passed in a few hours and temperatures in the north and centre of the country have now dropped, with the wind blowing the storm away to the north.'

But he said many parts of the city were now covered with tonnes of sand, adding: 'No serious damage has been done but people will find they have quite a lot of sweeping up to do.'

A Saudi man covers his face with a traditional Saudi head dress cover Shemagh

An official from the Saudi Meteorological Department added: 'Sandstorms are due to high pressure in the northern and central parts of the Kingdom

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