Much of Beijing was blanketed by the worst sandstorm in years on Wednesday evening. Many residents rushed home, fearing traffic would come to a standstill, after the national observatory issued a sandstorm yellow alert – the third-most serious – that visibility would drop below 1,000 metres. Many areas in the capital recorded PM10 air pollution readings of nearly 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre, a level considered hazardous. The US embassy’s readings of PM2.5 particulates – considered most dangerous to human health – exceeded 300, also considered hazardous. There were traffic jams in most major districts of the city. The Legal Mirror reported that it was the strongest sandstorm in Beijing in 13 years. Strong winds are expected in the capital until Thursday afternoon. Parts of Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Tianjin, Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Hebei and Jilin were also affected by dust, according to the National Meteorological Centre. Authorities urged people to stay indoors, but those who ventured outside posted erie, red-tinged photos online showing smudged outlines of buildings and even people. “It’s very dirty, I feel like it is the end of the world,” said one internet user. Another wrote: “It feels like we are living in a desert. I wonder how we can survive such bad weather.” In another development, a strong cold front swept across north China including areas along the Yellow and Huai rivers, bringing a temperature drop of about 12 degrees Celsius.