Q.What's black as night and red all over? A. Sydney
Thursday 24 September 2009
Sydney awoke yesterday to an eerie sight: a blood-orange dawn and a city bathed in red light. A thick dust cloud hung over the urban sprawl, with the red dirt of the outback – transported nearly 1,000 miles by winds so strong they blew birds out of the trees – blanketing pavements, buildings and beaches.
The worst dust storm for 75 years caused chaos in Sydney, with the country's biggest airport virtually shut down because of poor visibility. International flights were diverted, and domestic air traffic was disrupted. Ferries on the harbour were suspended. Tourists visiting the Sydney Opera House found its white sails had turned orange, while the Harbour Bridge was visible only in silhouette.
The elderly, the sick and the asthmatic were urged to stay indoors, amid the worst air pollution ever recorded. Many people who ventured out wore face masks, with the usually laid- back city resembling Hong Kong during the bird flu scare. Commuters wrapped their faces in scarves or pressed handkerchiefs to their mouths as they hurried on to buses and trains, coughing and spluttering.
Wild winds had whipped up millions of tonnes of topsoil from the drought-parched Australian interior and carried it eastwards. The mining town of Broken Hill, 700 miles west of Sydney, was completely blacked out by swirling dust, and a zinc mine had to close. The winds, gusting at more than 60mph, also fanned bushfires in New South Wales. "This is unprecedented," said Richard Whitaker, a senior meteorologist at Australia's television Weather Channel. "We are seeing earth, wind and fire together."
While dust storms are not uncommon in the outback, they rarely travel as far as coastal areas. The Bureau of Metereology described yesterday's storm, which affected Queensland as well as New South Wales, as "extremely rare". The bureau's NSW regional director, Barry Hanstrum, said: "It's one of the worst, if not the worst."
On waking to the dramatic red skies, with dawn sunlight struggling to penetrate the thick dust, some Sydneysiders thought a major bushfire was heading their way. Others feared the end of the world was nigh. One resident, identified only as Karen, told ABC radio: "It did feel like Armageddon because when I was in the kitchen, looking out the skylight, there was this red glow coming through."
Later, rain fell as mud over inland areas. After a 15-minute walk through my Sydney neighbourhood, I fled back home, coughing uncontrollably, my eyes stinging. The washing on the line in my backyard was bone-dry, but coated with grit.
- 1 Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
- 2 Fifa corruption: Europe plots to stage an 'alternative World Cup' in place of Russia 2018
- 3 How much sex should I be having?
- 4 Jaden Smith wears gender fluid dress to high school prom with Hunger Games actress
- 5 Betting company 'refuse to pay' after student wins £1,000 from 50p bet on Roger Federer
Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, reveals new look on Annie Leibovitz shot Vanity Fair cover
Russian military jets and US destroyer clash in Black Sea 'posing danger to stability'
Ed Miliband returns to the backbenches but it's all a bit awkward as he tries to avoid eye-contact with fellow Labour MPs
Photographer who performed naked shoot in China's Forbidden City sparks outrage
Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Why this year's general election was the most unfair in Britain's history
£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...
£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...
£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...