Flights delayed, schools shut as sandstorm hits Gulf

Riyadh: Flights were disrupted, ships weighed anchor and schools were closed today as a major sandstorm blew through Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Gulf states.

Foreigners wear medical masks as they walk in a street in Dubai amid a sandstorm that engulfed the city on Thursday. Pic/AFP

In the United Arab Emirates, several flights were diverted and delays were expected to others, a Dubai Airports spokesperson said, as the skies over the city turned yellow.

King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam, on the Saudi Gulf Coast, suspended the arrival and departure of all vessels from 1730 GMT yesterday, the official Saudi Press Agency reported. 

"Their movement will resume as soon as the weather improves and the wind speed slows down," after reaching 30 knots, the report said. 

Skies cleared today in the centre of the kingdom, where the Saudi capital is located, and workers cleaned debris from the storm. 

Riyadh's normally erratic drivers slowed down as blowing sand reduced visibility for motorists and tossed garbage across highways.

Schools were closed in the capital and in the Eastern Province, around Dammam, today. 

Delays also began to mount at Hamad International Airport in Qatar. Inbound and outbound flights were affected, some by more than two hours.

The storm closed schools in Doha as visibility fell to 100 metres (yards) today before improving by the afternoon.

Flights to Bahrain were "temporarily suspended due to unstable weather conditions," the official Bahrain News Agency cited an airport official as saying. 

Similar conditions prevailed in Oman while Kuwait's capital appeared less affected by the storm on Thursday, despite hazy conditions elsewhere in the country. 

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