Canary Islands sandstorm: Flights disrupted as dust cloud strands tourists

Image copyright Getty ImagesImage caption Strong winds have blown a cloud of sand from the Sahara desert to the Canary Islands

A vast sandstorm from the Sahara has shrouded Spain’s Canary Islands, disrupting travel plans for tourists flying in and out.

Spain’s airport operator Aena cancelled, suspended or diverted all flights to and from the islands on Sunday, citing low visibility.

But on Sunday night, Aena said operations had resumed at all airports, except Tenerife South.

A state of alert was issued by the regional government on Saturday, with residents advised to stay indoors, close their windows and avoid travel.

Spain’s national weather service said winds of up to 120km/h (75mph) could buffet the Canaries until Monday.

It is strong winds that have blasted the islands with a dense cloud of sand from the Saharan desert, some 500km (300 miles) across the Atlantic Ocean.

A satellite image showing dust being blown towards the Canary IslandsImage copyright NASA Image caption A satellite image shows the sandstorm blasting the Canary Islands from the east

The sandstorm is so enormous, it is visible from space, with satellite images showing it engulfing the islands, off the coast of north-west Africa.

Ferry services and efforts to tackle wildfires in Tasarte, Gran Canaria, have also been hampered by the winds.

Passengers wait at Tenerife South Reina Sofia Airport after flights were cancelled due to a sandstormImage copyright Getty Images Image caption All flights were cancelled to and from airports on the islands on Sunday Stranded passengers wait at Las Palmas Airport in Gran Canaria, as a sandstorm disrupts travelImage copyright Reuters Image caption Passengers have been stranded at airports across the islands

In a tweet, Spain’s transport minister, José Luis Ábalos, thanked neighbouring countries for their “solidarity”.

The Canary Islands, which include Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and La Palma, are popular with European tourists in search of winter sun.

What is the situation with tourists?

Hundreds of flights have been affected by the weather conditions, leaving tourists stranded at airports across the Canaries. On Sunday, 822 flights were affected, Aena said in a tweet.

Aena advised passengers to check the status of their flight with their airline.

“We’re staying in regular contact with our customers and we look forward to getting them on their way tomorrow [Monday],” a spokeswoman for airline British Airways said.

A man takes a stroll around Majada Marcial neighbourhood in Puerto del Rosario, FuerteventuraImage copyright EPA Image caption The Canary Islands are popular with European tourists seeking sun during winter

Greg Horsman, 29, was expecting to fly home to Manchester from Gran Canaria on Saturday after going on a cruise with his girlfriend.

He told PA news agency his flight was cancelled after a five-hour wait at the airport.

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Media captionStrong winds carrying sand from the Sahara have affected airports in the Canary Islands

“It’s frustrating. We’re just ready to be home,” he said.

What is happening with the wildfires?

Firefighters are battling to contain wildfires in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, where temperatures have soared above 30C in recent days.

In south-west Gran Canaria, near the village of Tasarte, blazes have scorched around 300 hectares of land, forcing the evacuation of 500 people.

Firefighters battle a blaze in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary IslandsImage copyright EPA Image caption Temperatures have soared in the Canary Islands, creating ideal conditions for wildfires to erupt

On Saturday, strong winds prevented water-dropping aircraft from tackling fires near Tasarte.

On the neighbouring island of Tenerife, around 1,000 locals and tourists were evacuated as a precaution because of the risk from blazes.

Pedro Marin, head of Tenerife’s local government, described the scale of the wildfires as “a completely unusual situation”.

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