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Posted On: 2 April 2015 05:34 am
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:15 pm

Sandstorm envelops Qatar

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Schools closed; zero visibility at many places; some relief can be expected after 10am

A massive sandstorm swept through Qatar and other parts of the Arabian Peninsula late yesterday with the government ordering all schools, including private and Independent, closed today.

“All schools, whether Independent or private, will remain closed today to ensure the safety of students,” said school regulator, the Supreme Education Council (SEC).

Staff members of the schools will, however, report for duty, the SEC said on its Twitter account.

University students are not included in the SEC’s decision, the regulator clarified.

The regulator has cancelled all school examinations that were scheduled to be held today and said new exam dates will be announced soon.

However, the exams that are to take place from Sunday will be held as scheduled, said the SEC.

A senior weather forecaster said dusty conditions may remain intense until at least 10 this morning. “After 10am we can expect some relief,” said Abdullah Al Mannai, veteran researcher and analyst at the weather bureau.

The sandstorm of the intensity never seen at least in recent years, enveloped large parts of Qatar all too suddenly by around 9.30 last night.

“It came on suddenly like an avalanche. I was driving from the Corniche area to the Airport Road, and as I entered a little deeper into the D Ring Road from near the Old Airport, my car seemed to have literally sailed into a black hole,” said an expatriate.

“Nothing was visible. Fortunately, I was close to my destination,” he added.

Visibility had turned to zero at several places in Doha and in places outside as well.

“Visibility is almost zero in all roads and highways. Motorists are requested to follow safety instructions. Don’t use hazard lights while driving. They are meant only for emergency parking,” the Ministry of Interior said on its Twitter account.

The ministry kept tweeting, asking motorists to be cautious as most parts of the country were affected by the sandstorm.

“It is unbelievable. It is dark all over,” an expatriate told newspaper at 11.50pm. “People are driving at snail’s pace. The visibility is immensely poor,” he added.

Thick layers of dust were hanging in the air in several places, including Doha, Dukhan, Jumailiya, and Umm Bab.

Al Mannai said that high pressure had built over large parts of the Arabian Peninsula that was causing high wind which was kicking up sand from the deserts mainly in Saudi Arabia. The storm moved to Qatar from there.

Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh newspaper said that some cities like Riyadh were totally engulfed by dust and winds were cruising at speeds at some places at 110km an hour. Riyadh newspaper’s online edition said there were chances of rain today. Most GCC cities and areas were affected by the sandstorm, media reports said.

Fire alarms went out in shopping complexes as the sandstorm lashed Doha, making people panic and run helter-skelter, especially in the Villaggio Mall where a fire tragedy had claimed many lives in May 2012.

It couldn’t be known until the time of going to the press as to what damages the sandstorm caused in Qatar in terms of road accidents. The interior ministry tweeted asking people, particularly children, to avoid direct contact with the sandstorm due to allergies they may develop. Many people called up this newspaper saying their homes were full of dust. “This is the first time we are witnessing a sandstorm of such intensity. There is dust all over our home,” said the expatriate.

The weather bureau had issued warnings of the sandstorm but failed to highlight its intensity.

Al Mannai said northwesterly wind was moving at speeds from 65km to 70km an hour.

Ahmed Al Ishaq, from the Civil Aviation Authority, said an incoming flight was diverted from Hamad International Airport (HIA) to a neighbouring city.

He said the neighbouring countries were also affected by the sandstorm so “we had to manage and ensure that all incoming flights landed safely” at HIA.

He didn’t give details of the lone flight that was diverted immediately after the sandstorm hit Qatar.

Al Mannai said the seas were rough and in some places the waves were rising up to 12 to 14 feet.

There were rumours that government will also remain closed today but until the time of going to the press there was no confirmation.

The weather bureau, in a bulletin released at 12.38am, warned that due to the sandstorm visibility in Qatar could turn to zero. The bureau said wind speed was up to 60km an hour.

Sandstorms are an environmental problem in the GCC and cause damages that in terms of money sometimes are worth billions of dollars.