2 Dead, More People Hospitalized as Sandstorm Hits Lebanonإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
The health ministry said Tuesday that two individuals died and almost 750 people were rushed to hospitals as an unseasonal sandstorm hit Lebanon, covering the country, including Beirut, with a blanket of yellow dust.
In a statement, the ministry said two women had died at hospitals in the eastern Bekaa Valley because of the storm.
It identified one of the dead as Joumana L. and the other as Hadla Aa.
"The number of cases of choking and shortness of breath caused by the sandstorm has risen to 750," the ministry said.
The storm reached Beirut on Tuesday, a day after it engulfed the Bekaa.
The ministry also said that it has gone on alert, urging those suffering from respiratory and heart problems to stay indoors.
It said children, the elderly and pregnant women should stay home.
Red Cross official George Kettaneh also advised those having asthma problems not to leave their homes.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Elias Bou Saab ordered the closure of private schools on Wednesday as a precaution. He called on "school officials to respect this decision and to protect students from any danger."
Later on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tammam Salam issued a decree ordering the closure of all state institutions and administrations on Wednesday due to the sandstorm.
The storm was felt particularly in Lebanon's dozens of informal camps where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees live with limited shelter.
The Traffic Management Center, meanwhile, advised drivers to be cautious to avoid accidents because of low visibility.
The Meteorological Department at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport expected the storm to last a few days.
Mouin Hamzeh, secretary general of Lebanon's governmental National Council for Scientific Research, said satellite images "clearly show that the sandstorm came from northern Iraq in the direction of central and northern Lebanon, north and east Syria, and southern Turkey."
"It usually happens twice or even three times a year in Lebanon but during spring, March and April, and the unusual thing today is the density of the storm," he told AFP.
Large parts of neighboring Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Israel and Cyprus were also shrouded in a thick cloud of dust from the storm.
In Syria, the storm swept across much of the country, reducing visibility everywhere from coastal Latakia province to eastern Deir Ezzor.
In the city of Mayadeen in Deir Ezzor, several hospitals were no longer receiving patients suffering respiratory problems after running out of oxygen tanks, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.
Syria's health minister urged citizens to "avoid prolonged exposure to the outdoors" and said hundreds of people had been treated for cases of asthma and other respiratory problems.
Thick haze was hanging over Jerusalem and much of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, with officials also warning the vulnerable to stay indoors.
The view from the Mount of Olives -- which normally offers a sweeping panorama of Jerusalem's Old City and the al-Aqsa mosque compound with its golden Dome of the Rock -- was completely obscured by the dust.
The thick cloud also enveloped parts of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where residents were told to limit their time outdoors.
Health officials warned that the concentration of dust particles in the air was many times above normal levels.
Several flights were diverted from the coastal airport of Larnaca as visibility dropped to 500 meters.
The island was also suffering from a heatwave, with inland temperatures hitting 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit).
The interior ministry said that dozens of Syrian refugees who had been rescued from a fishing boat off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday had been moved from a makeshift camp to a better-equipped facility because of the extreme weather.