Wednesday in Australia the worst dust storm in 70 years blanketed the heavily populated east coast in a cloud of red Outback grit. It nearly closed the country's largest airport.
No one was hurt as a result of the pall that swept in overnight, bringing an eerie orange dawn to Sydney, but ambulance services reported a spike in emergency calls from people with breathing difficulties, and police warned drivers to take it easy on the roads.
Dust clouds blowing east from Australia's dry interior — parched even further by the worst drought on record — covered dozens of towns and cities in two states as strong winds snatched up tons of topsoil, threw it high into the sky and carried it hundreds of miles (kilometers).
International flights were diverted from Sydney to other cities — three from New Zealand were turned around altogether — and domestic schedules were thrown into chaos as operations at Sydney Airport were curtailed by unsafe visibility levels. Passenger ferries on the city's famous harbor were also stopped for several hours for safety reasons, The Associated Press reports.
It was also reported, the suffocating haze has shrouded some of Sydney's most recognizable landmarks.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House were almost lost in a monstrous cloud of dust that has been whipped up by thunderstorms in drought-hit areas of the New South Wales outback.
The dust is causing misery and chaos. Flights have been diverted and ferries canceled, while traffic has been forced to a crawl because of poor visibility.
Many residents are forced to seek refuge indoors, while those who battle the elements have been bombarded by tiny particles of dust propelled by gale-force winds.
Doctors warn people with asthma, and heart and lung diseases to stay indoors but even the healthy suffer under the conditions, Voice of America reports.
BBC News qouted Tanya Ferguson as saying, "It was like being on Mars."
"I haven't been there, obviously, but I imagine that's what the sky would look like."
She said she woke to a massive gust of wind blowing through her windows early in the morning.
"The whole room was completely orange. I couldn't believe my eyes," she said.
Ms Ferguson said she initially thought there was a bush fire. When she finally decided to venture outside, she said the entire city was covered in a film of orange dust, BBC News reports.
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