Blinding Sandstorms Disrupt Flights, Everyday Life in Iraqi Capital
BAGHDAD, Iraq Blinding sandstorms swept across the Iraqi capital Tuesday for a fourth straight day, disrupting air travel, slowing traffic and blanketing the city in a gritty film.
A gray dust hung over Baghdad early Tuesday, making it impossible to see across the Tigris River which divides the city. Central Baghdad's famous Ramadan mosque was enshrouded in sand, leaving it almost invisible from just down the street.
Some Iraqis cope with the storm -- common in this largely desert country -- by tying scarves around their faces to avoid inhaling the dust. Others cover their faces with wet towels. Motorists say they especially feel the storm's fury, with frequent traffic accidents.
"We face difficulties in seeing clearly, making it hard to avoid hitting pedestrians or other cars," said Abu Abdullah, 55, a taxi driver. "I need to clean my car, especially my windshield, many times a day."
The storms are especially taxing on people like Ammar Jabbar and his brother, who earn their livelihood by peddling soft drinks and cigarettes on the streets.
"I took my brother to the hospital this afternoon because the dust made it difficult for him to breath," said Jabbar, 29, who later returned to work despite the sand and 110-degree temperature.
Since the storms began, Baghdad hospitals have been treating dozens of respiratory cases a day -- including many asthmatics -- doctors said. In the last two days alone, 126 people suffering asthma attacks were treated at the Ibn Al-Nafees Hospital in Baghdad.
Making matters worse, Baghdad's 6 million people face regular electricity outages and sporadic water shortages, and the quality of water in many neighborhoods is quite low.
Many people simply stay inside, like one 25-year-old man who said the sandstorm was so bad he couldn't visit his girlfriend who lives across town.
The storms, common during summer months, bring commercial airports to a standstill. Royal Jordanian Airlines has canceled five flights between Baghdad and Amman since Saturday, the airline said.
The outer edges of the storms often appear as solid dust walls that can reach up to 5,000 feet high, making approaches to airports even more dangerous in a flight pattern jammed with military sorties.
The U.S. military declined to comment on how the sandstorms affect flight operations. "All air crews train prior to deploying to Iraq in varying scenarios," said military spokesman Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, an Army helicopter pilot.
Boylan acknowledged there are "certain limitations due to weather" and commanders weigh the mission against the risks.
Sandstorms are caused when heating of the ground generates currents that stir up desert sand.
Source: Associated Press