Northern provinces blanketed in dust

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 April, 2009, 12:00am

Nine northern provinces and autonomous regions have been blanketed in dust over the past two days, causing traffic delays and health alerts.

The dust storm sweeping across the north was the largest of its kind this year, the National Meteorological Centre said. It is the sixth dust storm on the mainland this year.

The centre reported heavy dust in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hebei, Henan and Shandong.

Gansu , one of the poorest and most polluted provinces in the northwest, was the worst hit. Its top tourist attraction, Dunhuang, which houses some of the nation's most precious artwork from the Tang dynasty, was covered in dust. Visibility was less than 20 metres, the Lanzhou Evening Post reported.

The dust storm hit the city yesterday morning without warning, scattering pedestrians and forcing shops to close, the newspaper said. A choking foul smell filled the air and many residents had difficulty breathing. Many buildings needed their lights at noon as the whole city was covered by yellowish clouds.

Some farmers had ventured out of their homes, trying to save their crops and vegetables. Storms bearing winds of 90km/h destroyed more than 7,000 hectares of farm products. Traffic on highways was limited to a crawl because drivers could barely see, one taxi driver said.

At least two flights had to be delayed or cancelled at the Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport.

The Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences said in January that dust storms would be as frequent as last year but less powerful. The first sandstorm arrived in the middle of last month and affected only a few provinces bordering Mongolia. Beijing has not been affected this year.

The mainland has launched an ambitious tree-planting programme. The Sanbei Shelterbelt Project covers an area of 4.07 million sq km, or 42.4 per cent of the mainland's total land area. Billions of yuan have been spent to forest or grass former farmland, but the effect of the project is the subject of debate.