Sandstorm Blankets Israel in Yellow Haze

YERUSHALAYIM -
Riding out the sandstorm along the Light Rail tracks on Jaffa Road in Yerushalayim on Tuesday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Riding out the sandstorm along the Light Rail tracks on Jaffa Road in Yerushalayim on Tuesday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A massive sandstorm blanketed Israel and the surrounding region on Tuesday with a thick yellow haze, causing hundreds of people to be hospitalized and forcing the cancellation of some domestic airline flights.

Most of those requiring medical treatment from breathing in tiny particles carried by the vast cloud were people with heart and respiratory conditions.

Magen David Adom reported more than 255 incidents, including 145 people suffering shortness of breath and asthma attacks, 30 who fainted, and more than 80 people with heart-related symptoms due to inhalation of the particles. At Ziv Medical Center in Tzfas, at least one person was admitted to the intensive care unit with weather-related breathing difficulty.

Health authorities cautioned vulnerable populations such as the elderly, expectant mothers, children and heart patients to stay indoors as much as possible. Many of those who did have to be outside were seen wearing face masks.

Dr. Levana Kordova, scientific manager at the Environment Ministry’s Air Monitoring Center, said that “for sensitive populations, short-term exposure to such dense clusters of particulates can cause a stroke, heart attacks, and even death. The storm comes in addition to the existing high heat and high humidity.” She explained that the tiny particulates make their way into the lungs, where they can interfere with the oxygen to carbon dioxide exchange, giving rise to serious problems.

Air travel in Israel was also affected by the near-zero visibility. There were disruptions to domestic flights, and Arkia and Israir cancelled all of their flights for the day on the Tel Aviv-Eilat route.

At least 10 flights were held up on the ground in Eilat because of the unusual weather conditions.