Sandstorms blanket Beijing in yellow dust

20 March 2010

Beijingers woke up Saturday to find the Chinese capital covered in a film of yellow dust, as sandstorms caused by a severe drought in the north of the country and Mongolia swept into the city.

The storm, which earlier lashed parts of northeastern China, brought strong winds and cut visibility in the capital.

Authorities issued a rare level five pollution warning, signalling hazardous conditions, and urged residents to stay indoors.

Dust storms frequently hit the arid north of China in the spring, when temperatures start to rise, stirring up clouds of dust that can travel across China, to South Korea and Japan and even as far as the United States.

Scientists blame a combination of deforestation and prolonged drought in northern China for the phenomenon.

Saturday’s storm was expected to last until Monday, the meteorological agency said in a statement on its website.

The dust blanketed streets in the capital and covered parked vehicles in a fine yellow coating.

“I was amazed to see the ground had turned yellow overnight,” Beijing salesman Li Ming told the official Xinhua news agency. “It reminds me of the dirt road of my rural hometown.”

Another resident said the storm was worse than those in recent years.

“Severe sandstorms like this happened very often in the 1980s and 1990s,” Beijing retiree Song Xiurong told Xinhua. “It hasn’t been that serious in the recent two or three years, as far as I remember.”

Meanwhile in the southwest of the country, drought had now left 16 million people with a shortage of drinking water, according to a statement issued by the State Commission of Disaster Relief.

Since late last year, the provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou, have received only half their annual average rainfall, leaving water supplies severely depleted.

More than four million hectares (10 million acres) of land were affected and 4,000 troops have been deployed to help distribute emergency water supplies, Xinhua said.


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