- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

SYDNEY, Australia | Red Outback grit shrouded Australia’s largest city Wednesday, blotting out such landmarks as the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge and even reaching underground to coat subway stations. The country’s worst dust storm in 70 years diverted planes and produced an eerie orange sky.

The haze was visible from space, appearing as a huge brown smudge in satellite photographs of Australia.

By afternoon, the dust had moved on from Sydney, heading north to the Queensland state capital of Brisbane, where the sky was clogged into the evening.

No one was hurt as a result of the pall that swept in overnight, bringing an 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.

The dust clouds formed in Australia’s interior - parched by the worst drought on record - when gale force winds snatched up tons of topsoil and threw it high into the sky before carrying it hundreds of miles eastward.

The Sydney Morning Herald called it “the day the country blew into town.”

The dust so thoroughly blanketed everything in its path - clothes, cars, train seats - that Queensland promised to lift water restrictions, imposed because of the drought, so residents could clean their homes and vehicles.

Suburban rail trains carried the dust into underground stations in Sydney.

International flights were diverted from Sydney to other cities - three from New Zealand were turned around altogether - and domestic schedules were thrown into chaos as operations at Sydney Airport were curtailed by unsafe visibility levels.

Helicopters carrying water to douse bush fires raging in Queensland were grounded in the afternoon because of poor visibility.

The storms are the most severe since the 1940s, specialists said.

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