Sandstorm forces closure of airports on Spain’s Canary Islands

Cars drive on the TF-1 highway during a sandstorm in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, on February 23, 2020; airports on Spain's Canary Islands were closed after strong winds carrying red sand from the Sahara shrouded the tourist hotspot

Airports on Spain’s Canary Islands were closed again Sunday after a sandstorm hit the archipelago, airport authorities said.

Air travel was first disrupted on the archipelago on Saturday after strong winds carrying red sand from the Sahara shrouded the tourist hotspot, forcing flights to and from the islands of Gran Canaria and Tenerife to be cancelled or diverted.

Some flights briefly resumed Sunday morning before Spanish airport operator AENA was forced to close all eight airports in the Canaries — the three in Gran Canaria and Tenerife as well as five others.

“Visibility is very low,” a spokeswoman for the airport operator said.

AENA said flights were being diverted to mainland Spain as well as to Cape Verde, Morocco, Mauritania and Portugal.

In a tweet, Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos thanked these countries for their “solidarity” and said air transport professionals “do not remember such adverse weather for air transport in the Canary Islands.”

The regional government declared a state of alert on Saturday and advised people to keep doors and windows closed, avoid non-essential car travel and stay away from coastal areas.

Spain’s national weather service warned that winds of up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) were set to buffet the Canaries until Monday.

Strong winds also prevented water-dropping aircraft from putting out fires near Tasarte village in southwest Gran Canaria, which have scorched around 300 hectares of land and forced 500 people to be evacuated, as well as in the neighbouring island of Tenerife.

About 1,000 locals and tourists were evacuated in Tenerife as a precaution because of the risk from blazes which broke out near built-up areas in six municipalities on the north of the island amid scorching temperatures, said the head of the local government of Tenerife, Pedro Marin.

“We are facing a completely unusual situation. It is the first time that so many fires have broken out in so many municipalities at the same time, and in different places,” he told a news conference.

Located off the coast of Morocco, the Canary Islands are a popular tourist destination for northern Europeans seeking winter sunshine.

The archipelago received 13.1 million foreign visitors last year, according to national statistics institute INE figures, making it Spain’s third most visited region.

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