Caribbean chokes on monster Saharan dust cloud headed toward the U.S.
By Kate Chappell and Sarah Marsh
KINGSTON / HAVANA (Reuters) - A massive cloud of Sahara dust has covered parts of the Caribbean, turned the blue sky into a milky-brown haze and triggered health warnings across the region as air quality has dropped to an unhealthy level.
Strong warm winds over the Sahara usually lash sand at this time of the year and carry it thousands of kilometers across the Atlantic to America. This year, according to several meteorologists, the dust is the densest in half a century. The thick smog severely restricted the view.
Jamaica's Blue Mountains, usually a prominent sight over Kingston, were hidden behind an oppressive white cloud.
"I'm not sure it gets in through the vents because the air inside doesn't feel that way," said Sarue Thomas, 31, of her Kingston office, where temperatures were above 30 degrees Celsius and the air was thick.
"We have never seen that before," said Thomas, adding that her three-year-old son had developed a dry cough.
"It's the worst I've seen since we kept records," said Evan Thompson, director of the Jamaica Weather Services Department.
"We see a much thicker mass of dust particles suspended. It's much clearer and more noticeable."
The cloud of dust moved to the eastern Caribbean at the weekend, suffocating Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and eastern Cuba on Tuesday and continuing to advance westward toward Central America and southern United States.
Officials across the region warned locals to stay at home and wear a face mask if possible, especially if they already had respiratory problems because the dust was a strong irritant and could contain both pathogens and minerals.
"Using a face mask is recommended in this situation and is already necessary to prevent COVID-19," said Jose Rubiera, Cuba's best weather man, on his Facebook page.
"People with asthma and people with allergies should be careful and stay at home."
Saharan dust "usually helps build beaches in the Caribbean and fertilizes the soil in the Amazon" and, according to NASA, not only affects the air quality that satellite images of the cloud have taken.
(Reporting by Kate Chappell in Kingston and Sarah Marsh in Havana; editing by David Gregorio)
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