Deadly Middle East Sandstorm Claims Lives, Shuts Schools And Businesses

An epic sandstorm clogging the air in the Middle East for several days has claimed several lives and forced schools and businesses in the region to close.

In Lebanon alone, at least four people have died and up to 2,000 have been hospitalized for breathing problems, Al Jazeera reported, citing Lebanese health authorities. The country’s northern and eastern regions were the hardest hit. The Independent said Lebanese air traffic authorities described the Middle East sandstorm as “unprecedented.”

Lebanese protests against the country’s garbage-collection problems were also cancelled due to the epic Middle East sandstorm. The government also closed schools and public offices due to the poor weather conditions.

While over 1,000 more people have been hospitalized in war-torn Syria for breathing problems caused by the Middle East sandstorm, hundreds of more lives may well have been saved as poor visibility forced Syrian government forces to cancel airstrikes on rebel (and probably civilian) targets.

Al Jazeera said Syrian rebel forces took advantage of the cover provided by the Middle East sandstorm and captured a major government airbase it had laid siege to for two years.

In Egypt, four ports in the governorate of Suez had to be shut due to poor visibility caused by the massive Middle East sandstorm. The Associated Press, citing Egypt’s state news agency MENA, said visibility in the area was under a mile on Wednesday.

The Times of Israel reported that over 300 Israelis “were treated for respiratory problems and other weather-related ailments Tuesday” after the epic Middle East sandstorm created the “worst air pollution ever in Jerusalem.”

Haaretz mentioned that airplanes were diverted away from areas in Jordan and Cyprus due to horrible visibility that dropped to just 500 meters.

NASA posted a number of images of the unprecedented sandstorm in the Middle East captured from one of its satellites. The colossal sandstorm can be clearly seen covering a massive amount of area, including parts of southeastern Turkey, western Syria, much of Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and eastern areas of Egypt, including the Sinai Peninsula.

National Geographic, citing U.S. Weather Service meteorologist Ken Waters, published an article on its news site explaining how this massive and unprecedented Middle East sandstorm came about.

“The two ingredients needed are an availability of dust or sand particles at the surface and enough sustained wind to get those particles moving.”

The article also mentioned that these large sandstorms are common in areas where the weather gets hot and dry. These conditions are also found in some areas in the Western U.S., National Geographic noted, adding that Arizona witnessed “huge dust storms” in 2011 that blocked out the sun.

The colossal Middle East sandstorm is expected to continue through the weekend.

[Image via NASA]