Sandstorm clear-up begins

Emergency crews have been working to make the country's roads safe again after sandstorms battered the motorways and cities.

DUBAI // Those who grumbled over the task of sweeping dusty patios after this weekend's sandstorm should spare a thought for the men who had to do the same along vast stretches of motorway.

Strong north-westerly Shamal winds whipped across the Gulf from Thursday, stirring up desert sands and depositing a grainy carpet over everything in its path.

Municipal workers were kept busy all weekend shovelling tonnes of sand from choked highways and arterial roads.

"We had to work like an emergency team to remove the sand in time," said Yaqoob Al Ali, the head of Dubai Municipality's cleaning section. "It was a big challenge to get the highways clear.

"We cannot leave sand on the highways or accidents will happen. It is a danger zone. During a sandstorm people cannot control the car. It skids and slips because drivers cannot tell how deep the sand is."

Police patrol cars and municipality lorries trained bright lights on sweeper machines, tractors and bulldozers pushing heaps of sand off main roads.

Four Dubai roads were affected, with stretches of sand covering tracts of tarmac on Dubai Bypass, Al Qudra, Emirates and Lusail roads. And the Jebel Ali-Lahbab Road had to be shut down while authorities readied it for operations yesterday morning.

The National Centre of Meteorology & Seismology said the hazy weather would continue, with a chance that dust and sand could reduce visibility. While temperatures reached a high of 22°C this weekend, the mercury is likely to gradually decrease.

Strong winds over coastal areas and mountains is typical for this time of year, an official from the centre said.

Authorities said they were gearing up for more sandstorms before summer sets in.

"This is the storm season," said Mr Al Ali. "We have a team on emergency duty. The special unit handles calls during the storm season for motorway cleaning."

Service operators in residential communities said they took workers off weekend leave to handle the rise in phone calls and clear roads.

"We put in more manpower. Extra men were needed to operate heavy machinery," said Ghulam Mustafa, the operations manager of Al Fajer services, which handles several large communities.

"The roads are cleared but now it will take three days to clear the fine sand inside common areas."

Areas near open sandy tracts where there are fewer trees - such as those near Ibn Battuta, Al Khail, Jebel Ali and Nad Al Sheba - were harder to clear. Dubai International Academic City and Dubai Industrial City areas were also affected.

"The challenge is not only the sand but the debris picked up by the wind," said Lakshmi Narayan, of the Al Shirawi facilities management company.

"Road-sweeper machines are deployed to attack the sand but people are also needed to manually clear the sand. Assets get compromised when the fine sand enters warehouses.

"Protective guards are needed to block the sand and high winds during a storm."

Other cleaning crews have been equally busy. Long queues formed outside car washes at petrol stations yesterday.

"We have been very, very busy," said Jerry Fonseca, a car-wash attendant.

But there was one group that didn't have much to do over the weekend - fishermen, with choppy seas keeping them clear of their boats.

Hussein Al Hajri, the president of the Umm Al Quwain Fishermen's Association, said some of the fishermen set out to sea yesterday after checking with the weather bureaus that it was safe.

"Today it's good, not like the past two days," Mr Al Hajri said.

"The weather could be different in the afternoon or tomorrow, so they all know when to return and when not to go."

* Additional reporting by Yasin Kakande