Dozens of flights grounded as dust storm envelops Israel
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Dozens of flights grounded as dust storm envelops Israel

Airport Authority closes Eilat airport; health services recommend people remain indoors; power outages predicted

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Hazy view over Tel Aviv as a dust storm covers the city, November 4, 2015. (Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Hazy view over Tel Aviv as a dust storm covers the city, November 4, 2015. (Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Following weeks of irregular weather patterns, Israel was hit Tuesday night with a second major sandstorm in two months, blanketing the country with dust and disrupting air travel to Tel Aviv and Eilat.

Flights in and out of the southern resort city of Eilat were canceled Wednesday morning amid low visibility and stormy weather. The Airport Authority announced that Ovda Airport on the outskirts of Eilat would be completely shut shown until the afternoon and that the Sde Dov Airport near Tel Aviv would be closed except for landings.

Arkia Israel Airlines has canceled all domestic flights until 3:00 p.m. and will be rerouting international flights from Sde Dov to Ben Gurion Airport.

Tuesday saw dozens of flights diverted from Amman due to the storm. One plane from Dubai was forced to make an emergency landing in Tel Aviv.

According to the Israeli Meteorological Service, the dust clouds are caused by strong eastern winds blowing from the north of Saudi Arabia and causing air pollution levels up to 30 times higher than average.

The Magen David Adom emergency health service said in a statement that people suffering from breathing problems should stay indoors with closed windows and avoid strenuous activity outside.

MDA extended its recommendation to pregnant women, the elderly, people with chronic heart conditions and those suffering from lung conditions. It also recommended that athletes avoid training outside throughout the day.

The Israel Electric Corporation announced that it was preparing for the possibility of “failures in the power network” due to “sandstorms, dust clouds and clouds and lightning storms.”

The company said the combination of dust and rain could cause sporadic power outages “and is preparing appropriately.”

The IEC is under fire for its slow response to massive blackouts that struck Israel in the beginning of last week.

Israel, along with much of the northern Middle East, suffered a huge sandstorm in early September that lasted for several days. According to the Environment Protection Ministry, the storm in September was the worst sandstorm in the history of the country.

Air pollution levels were at their worst in 75 years during that storm, and measured 173 times higher than average in Jerusalem, 51 times higher than average in the Negev, and in the Galilee, 32 times higher than average.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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