Sandstorm sweeps across UAE

A thunderstorm, rain and high winds in Al Ain created dust clouds throughout the UAE that reduced visibility and slowed traffic.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES ñ July 30: Buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road engulfed in dust storm in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) *** Local Caption ***  PS001-DUST STORM.jpg
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A thunderstorm, rain and high winds in Al Ain created dust clouds throughout the UAE that reduced visibility, slowed traffic and kept people indoors on the eve of the long weekend that marks the Isra and Miraj celebrations.

At least four minor traffic accidents were reported in Dubai but there were no serious injuries or fatalities, police said. Because of the holiday, "a lot of people were indoors or had already reached their destinations for the celebrations for the weekend", said a spokesman for the police department. The dust cloud hit Dubai at about 6pm during the usual rush-hour, but traffic volumes were lower than usual because many people had left work early because of the holiday.

A spokesman for the civil defence said Dubai had been spared major accidents as there were fewer cars on the road. "So far we have had a few call-outs to minor incidents, but nothing major," he said. In Al Ain, rain and high winds were reported for about half an hour in the early evening. However, the damage was limited to displaced palm fronds and signs. Flights at Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports, where visibility dropped to 2km and 600 metres respectively, were not affected.

Warda al Yafei, a forecaster for the Abu Dhabi International Airport, said the weather event, which lasted about five hours, had been generated in the mountains near Al Ain. In the late afternoon, a convective cloud formed suddenly above the mountains in the east of the country, causing heavy rains, thunderstorms and winds of about 40 knots. The wind sucked up sand which was then deposited between Dubai and Abu Dhabi over several hours.

The storm hit the cities about 6pm, limiting visibility at airports and on Sheikh Zayed Road, where police said motorists could see barely 25 metres ahead. Because winds were light in the coastal areas the sand settled within a few hours, said Ms Yafei. These conditions were considered normal for the summer months. "Because the dust fell during the sunset, everything went red," she said. City streets and markets were virtually deserted in both Deira and Bur Dubai neighbourhoods. The gold souq was empty as tourists decided to stay indoors.

"We were planning on going to Dubai Marina but this looks horrible and we'd rather not risk it as it looks dangerous," said Cecilia Plotz, a German tourist staying in a Port Saeed hotel. Khaled Taha, a businessman in Sharjah on his way to Bab Al Shams Resort for the weekend, said visibility on the Emirates Road was "intolerable", however, "once we got off Emirates Road visibility returned to normal for the time of the year".