At least five people died in Beirut and the Syrian capital of Damascus after an intense storm hit the Middle East Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Several people were hospitalized in cities across the region for breathing problems.
The storm originated in Iraq and moved to parts of Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey. Health officials across the Middle East cautioned people to stay indoors. Schools in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon were reportedly shut.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government halted airstrikes against rebels in central Syria due to reduced visibility, the Associated Press (AP) reported, citing local media.
Though such storms are known to occur in the Middle East, Ridwan al-Ahmed, head of Syria’s meteorology department, told state-run SANA news agency that the phenomenon was rare in Syria. The meteorological department at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport called the storm "unprecedented" in Lebanon's modern history, according to Al Jazeera.
“Very hot and dry conditions are in place. It does not take much wind to initiate dust storms like the ones that have been affecting the Middle East recently,” Quincy Vagell, the Weather Channel’s digital meteorologist, said. "The jet stream, or winds in the upper levels of the atmosphere, took a dip into the northern Middle East. The glancing blow from the jet may have played a role in dust storm formation," Vagell added.
In Syria, three deaths and more than 3,580 cases of asphyxia, dyspnea, breathlessness and asthma, were recorded, SANA reported, citing health officials. The Lebanese Health Ministry said two women died and 750 people in the country complained of breathing problems because of the sandstorm, according to AP.
Lebanese coast guards also rescued two boats that were adrift because of the storm, AP reported, citing the National News Agency. Egypt, meanwhile, closed four ports in the Suez governorate following poor visibility, AP reported Wednesday, citing state-run MENA news agency.