Flights canceled in China’s worst sandstorm in a decade

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The Chinese capital and much of the country’s north were shrouded in the worst sandstorm in a decade on Monday, leading to the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

The skyscrapers of central Beijing seemed to fall in plain sight amid the dust and sand. Traffic was muddled and more than 400 flights from the capital’s two main airports were canceled before noon.

Such storms occurred regularly in the spring as the sands of the western deserts blew eastward, affecting areas as far as northern Japan.

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A cyclist and motorists walk past office buildings amid a morning rush hour sandstorm in Beijing's central business district on Monday, March 15, 2021. The sandstorm brought a tinted haze in the skies over Beijing and skyrocketed air quality indices on Monday.  (AP Photo / Andy Wong)
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A cyclist and motorists walk past office buildings amid a morning rush hour sandstorm in Beijing’s central business district on Monday, March 15, 2021. The sandstorm brought a tinted haze in the skies over Beijing and skyrocketed air quality indices on Monday. (AP Photo / Andy Wong)

Massive planting of trees and shrubs in fragile areas reduced the intensity of the storms, but the expansion of cities and industries put constant pressure on the environment across China.

The National Meteorological Center predicted that sand and dust would affect 12 provinces and regions from Xinjiang in the far northwest to Heilongjiang in the northeast and the coastal port city of Tianjin.

“This is the most intense sandstorm our country has seen in 10 years, and it covers the widest area,” the center said in a post on its website.

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It was not clear whether the storm was linked to a recent general drop in air quality despite efforts to end Beijing’s sweltering smog.

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The ruling Communist Party has pledged to reduce carbon emissions per unit of economic output by 18% over the next five years. Environmentalists say China must do more to reduce its dependence on coal which has made it the world’s largest emitter of climate-changing gases.

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