Two killed in Egypt fire fanned by sandstorm
CAIRO: At least two people were killed Tuesday in a fire fanned by a fierce sandstorm in Cairo which halted all flights at the main airport and delayed the arrival of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, a police source said.
The two died when the fire, triggered by a flame from a gas stove and fanned by strong winds, set some 50 homes ablaze in the village of Atalia in the Nile Delta governorate of Menufiyah, the source told AFP. Eight other people suffered burns.
The blaze swept through the village due to strong winds and the fact that roofs are often made of palm tree stems.
Some 30 firetrucks were deployed to control the fire.
Meanwhile, air traffic had by late afternoon partially resumed at Cairo international airport after a five-hour interruption which left thousands of passengers stranded.
The resumption of normal traffic should take several hours, the official Mena news agency reported.
All take-offs and landings had been interrupted during the sandstorm which cut visibility to fewer than 500 m, which is 300 metres below the necessary field of vision, operations director General Abdel Fattah Badran told reporters.
Two flights – one from Sudan and one from Luxor in Upper Egypt – were diverted to Egypt s Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, Badran added.
The US Defense Secretary, who is on a Middle East tour, was due in Cairo around 1.30 pm (1130 GMT) but was stuck in Amman because of the storm.
Strong desert winds whipped up a severe sandstorm that engulfed Cairo and other parts of Egypt on Tuesday, forcing the closure of Cairo s International Airport for several hours due to poor visibility.
Cairo s airport authorities announced at 10 am that visibility was reduced to 100 m, leading to cancellations of more than 15 departures, mostly to Europe. All incoming flights were diverted to airports in the Red Sea resort towns of Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheik.
Aviation officials said they expected the situation to ease around 3 pm, but the storm slightly abated 30 minutes ahead of schedule, allowing for landing and departure flights to resume, according to airport authorities.
Meanwhile, police said they had initial reports of car accidents caused by the bad weather and that some elderly people with breathing problems were rushed to hospitals. A blanket of orange dust hung in the air in Cairo, where it was impossible to see across the Nile River.
Each spring, Egypt is hit by sand storms, known as the khamaseen, or the 50-day wind, that deposit a layer of fine sand on buildings and cars.