Australia dust storm: Health warning as skies change colour

media captionGiant dust storm turns skies orange in south-east Australia

A giant dust storm has blanketed communities across south-east Australia, turning skies orange and raising concerns about air quality.

Authorities issued a public health alert for Sydney on Thursday as the 500km-wide (310 miles) dust band reached the city and caused flight delays.

Many regions elsewhere in New South Wales (NSW) have had poor visibility.

Authorities said the storm was driven by strong winds picking up dry soil.

The problem has been exacerbated by a drought that has affected the entire state of NSW since August, according to Australia's Bureau of Meteorology.

image copyrightMATT WHITELUM
image captionThe outback town of Broken Hill was hit by the storm on Wednesday
image copyrightMATT WHITELUM
image captionThe dust storm has already affected other parts of New South Wales

Paramedics said dozens of people had reported breathing or asthma difficulties on Thursday, but the number affected by dust was not immediately clear.

In Sydney, the dust darkened skies and caused "hazardous" air quality readings in some suburbs.

Health officials urged locals to stay indoors, particularly children, older people and those with respiratory problems.

image copyrightEPA
image captionPeople in Sydney battled strong winds as the dust arrived

One resident in Broken Hill, a town 1,100km west of Sydney, said the dust had lingered for hours on Wednesday.

"You walked outside and it was in your eyes and it was just a gritty feeling," Matt Whitelum told the BBC.

"The winds were also so strong that you had to hold the car door open or it would just slam back into your face."

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The Sydney dust storm has drawn comparisons to a more intense event which shrouded the city in 2009.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe 2009 dust storm seen above the Sydney Opera House

That dust storm left hundreds of people suffering from breathing difficulties, and forced the grounding of flights.

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