GRAN CANARIA, Spain (Reuters) – All flights to the Spanish Canary Islands were hijacked Sunday, airport operator AENA said after a Sahara sand storm hit the archipelago, covering the orange dust islands and limiting visibility.
About 144 flights have been affected so far, an AENA spokeswoman said, adding that it was not clear how long the airports would remain closed.
Some outgoing services from Fuerteventura and Lanzarote were operating, but all other flights to and from the archipelago had been hijacked or canceled, she said.
A Reuters reporter at Gran Canaria airport saw long queues of stranded passengers.
The Department of Transport said in a tweet that the weather should start improving around 11 p.m. GMT.
Known as “calimas”, sandstorms form when strong winds whip up dense clouds of sand from the Sahara and transport them across the 60-mile gap to the Canaries.
This latest storm came at a particularly bad time, coinciding with the British school holidays, when thousands of holidaymakers descend on the islands in search of the winter sun.
On Saturday evening, the storm complicated efforts to quell a forest fire in Gran Canaria, with firefighters unable to deploy planes to tame the fire, the island government said.
The regional government of the Canary Islands has declared a state of emergency and advised people to keep the doors and windows closed, while some of the carnival celebrations for which the islands are known have been canceled.
Borja Suarez reports in Gran Canaria; Nathan Allen’s writing in Madrid; Editing by David Holmes