Northern China, Beijing hit by first severe sandstorm of 2004
BEIJING (AFP) Mar 10, 2004
Northern China was hit by the season's first major sandstorm Wednesday, with experts in Beijing urging citizens to wear face masks to ward off serious pollution.

Visibility was down to 500 meters (1,600 feet) in some areas of northern China, with strong winds sweeping down from Russia's Siberia and over northwestern regions kicking up clouds of dust and sand, the Beijing Morning Post said.

Pedestrians and bicyclers in Beijing, where the annual meeting of parliament was being held, were seen trying to fight the wind and dust as they made their way to work Wednesday.

"Transportation, particularly airplane take-offs and landings, as well as traffic on expressways, might be affected during the strong sandstorm," the China Daily quoted meteorologists as saying.

Northwestern Gansu province was the worst affected area, with the storm that hit the region on Tuesday and Wednesday being the worst of seven sandstorms to pummel northern China so far this year, the paper said.

Strong winds in Beijing were expected to gradually weaken throughout Wednesday, but meteorologists in the capital issued a severe pollution warnings and urged the population to wear face masks, the Beijing Youth Daily said.

Northern China has increasingly become a source of severe sandstorms that have sent clouds of dust floating eastward over the Korean peninsula and as far away as Japan.

Years of tree felling and overgrazing along northern China's arid plains have led to desertification throughout the region and is seen as one of the main causes of the storms.