Schools were closed and visibility was reduced to just 20 metres in places as the strongest sandstorm to strike the northern Chinese city of Dunhuang swept in.
The sandstorm hit the city, in Gansu province, at 1.40pm on Wednesday, bringing strong winds and a sudden drop in temperature, and continued to rage for hours, forcing many people to wear masks.
School sent circulars to parents warning them to keep their children at home on Wednesday afternoon, and there were fears that the sudden change in weather could affect crops.
The weather forecasting station of Jiuquan city, which administers Dunhuang, issued a ‘red alert’, forecasting that visibility would be below 50 metres until at least the evening.
Forecasters warned that on Thursday and Friday torrential rain would hit parts of Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi and Anhui provinces.
Dunhuang is situated near the Gobi Desert, which stretches across Inner Mongolia and northern China, producing enormous sandstorms that frequently reach Beijing.
The Gobi is one of the world’s most abundant sources of dust, with sandstorms frequently occurring in the spring, peaking in April.