Lebanon News

Sandstorm smothers Lebanon

A sandstorm shrouds the capital city of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT: Hundreds of people were hospitalized across the country and at least five deaths were recorded as a suffocating sandstorm, expected to gradually ease starting late Wednesday, battered Lebanon for a second consecutive day.

Lebanese woke up Tuesday to clouds of dust and fog, which enveloped the capital Beirut and other areas of the country, reducing visibility on major roads. At least 750 cases of asphyxiation or shortness of breath have been recorded.

Earlier Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported that Joumana A.L. had passed away at the Baalbek Public Hospital and Hadla A.A. had died at the Tamnine Hospital in the Bekaa Valley.

Medical sources told The Daily Star that three citizens, including a little girl and two elderly women, also died as a result of the dust storm, which struck the capital and other parts of the country, a day after sweeping across north and east Lebanon.

The fatalities were identified as 4-year-old Nadine Nazha, from Nabi Othman, east of Baalbek, and a woman in her mid-70s, known by her family name Nimr, of nearby Ansar. The third victim was an 87-year-old woman from the southern Lebanese town of Khiam.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam issued a memo announcing the closure of public institutions and municipalities Wednesday due to the weather conditions. Education Minister Elias Bou Saab ordered all private schools to close Wednesday due to the storm. The 2015-16 academic year has not yet to begun for public schools. The American University of Beirut announced there would be no classes Wednesday.

The Health Ministry also announced the closure of nurseries Wednesday due to the storm.

Following a meeting at Health Minister Wael Abu Faour’s office, the ministry issued a state of alert through its health care network, in cooperation with public and private hospitals and the Lebanese Red Cross.

The LRC announced later Tuesday that it had transferred 352 cases of suffocation and shortness of breath to different hospitals, the state-run National News Agency reported, and was calling on citizens who have asthma to stay indoors.

The Health Ministry urged citizens who have allergies, chronic pulmonary, or heart disease, as well as the elderly, children and pregnant women to “stay home and avoid exposure to dust,” or to wear face masks if they do venture outside.

It also recommended that people keep air conditioners on, and instructed citizens to head to the nearest medical center if they suffer from shortness of breath, headaches, eye irritation or coughing.

UNICEF shared tips on how to deal with the dusty weather on its Facebook page.

“The face, nose and mouth should be washed repeatedly in order to prevent dust from reaching the lungs,” it said. The agency also advised citizens to drink lots of water and said that in addition to wearing masks, people could place a wet towel over their nose and mouth.

The storm disrupted daily life, closing down businesses and restaurants in the northern city of Tripoli.

The yellow-tinted skies prevented residents of the northern Akkar province and the Baalbek-Hermel district in the east from making their daily commutes, as cars and homes were covered in a thick layer of sand.

The sandstorm also struck the southern city of Sidon. Hospitals, medical associations and municipality firefighters were placed on alert, the NNA reported.

“This is mostly dust filling in the air, [which combined] with the strong humidity has reduced visibility to such an extent. ... There are worse [storms] that have passed [through Lebanon], but as this happened during this season it is relatively strong,” a source at the Meteorological Department at Rafik Hariri International Airport told The Daily Star.

The source explained that such weather conditions were more common during springtime. “[Wednesday] afternoon it will start to subside and there will be a gradual improvement ... and Thursday it will further improve and likely come to an end.” Wednesday’s weather is expected to be cloudy, dusty and foggy, even along the coast. Temperatures will remain high and the dust levels will reduce visibility, according to the department’s evening weather forecast.

Thursday will be partially cloudy with fog at higher altitudes, and the dust will continue to subside gradually during the day. Temperatures will remain high.

The dust storm, which the department says originated in Iraq, is also affecting Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.

Air traffic wasn’t substantially affected by the weather, according to the department source, but several agencies reported Tuesday that reduced visibility had limited the number of airstrikes being carried out in war-torn Syria.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 09, 2015, on page 1.

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