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September 24, 2009

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Dust storm coats parts of Australia

AUSTRALIA'S worst dust storm in 70 years blanketed the heavily populated east coast yesterday in a cloud of red Outback grit, nearly closed the country's largest airport and left millions of people coughing and sputtering in the streets.

No one was hurt as a result of the pall that swept in overnight, bringing an eerie orange dawn to Sydney, but ambulance services reported a spike in emergency calls from people with breathing difficulties, and police warned drivers to take it easy on the roads.

"It did feel like Armageddon because when I was in the kitchen looking out the skylight, there was this red glow coming through," Sydney resident Karen told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

Dust clouds blowing east from Australia's dry interior - parched even further by the worst drought on record - covered dozens of towns and cities in two states as strong winds snatched up tons of topsoil, threw it high into the sky and carried it hundreds of kilometers.

International flights were diverted from Sydney to other cities and domestic schedules were thrown into chaos as operations at Sydney Airport were curtailed by unsafe visibility levels.

Passenger ferries on the city's famous harbor were also stopped for several hours for safety reasons.

The dust over Sydney had largely cleared by midafternoon, though national carrier Qantas said severe delays would last all day because of diverted and late-running flights.

Officials said particle pollution in Sydney's air rose to the worst on record yesterday.


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