The worst sandstorm in years swept across northern and eastern Lebanon on Tuesday, leaving at least two dead and sending some 750 people to hospital with breathing difficulties, the Lebanese Health Ministry said.
The storm also affected other parts of the Levant region, including Syria, Jordan and Israel.
Governments across the region warned the ill and the elderly, as well as pregnant women, to avoid strenuous activities as the dust, which caused a heavy smog to engulf cities, could cause damage to lungs and impair breathing.
The Meteorological Department at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport described the storm as “unprecedented” in Lebanon’s modern history.
In neighbouring Syria, the sandstorm affected the area of al-Mayadeen in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour. Hospitals had stopped receiving patients because of the high number of people suffering from breathing problems.
Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the hospital had run out of oxygen cylinders.
The storm had also ensured that airstrikes in central and northern Syria had stopped, Abdel-Rahman further said.
Eitan Maza, an air quality forecaster at the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, said the sandstorm originated from a low depression in north-eastern Syria, carrying sand from the desert across the region.
“In Israel, this was the highest concentration of dust measured in the month of September in the last 15 years, and, in Jerusalem, it was the highest concentration of dust which was ever measured in the last 15 years,” Maza told dpa.
The National News Agency said the northern Lebanese district of Akkar was hit the hardest in that country.
The Israeli Environment Ministry warned of the health repercussions of the storm, stretching from northern Israel, Galilee, to central areas, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Ynet news reported.
The ministry warned against outdoor activities for children at schools and said those with health conditions should refrain from physical exertion.
Warnings were issued to drivers to be cautious in order to avoid accidents, as officials said visibility was significantly reduced.