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article imageCanary Islands airports reopen after sandstorm

By AFP     Feb 24, 2020 in Environment

All eight airports on Spain's Canary Islands reopened on Monday a day after a sandstorm shrouded the archipelago, forcing their closure, the transport ministry said.

"The overnight improvement in the weather has allowed the resumption of air traffic in all airports in the Canary Islands," the ministry tweeted.

ENAIRE, the public body that manages Spanish airspace, said flights had resumed after "an improvement in the haze".

Air travel was disrupted on the archipelago on Saturday after strong winds carrying red sand from the Sahara shrouded the tourist hotspot in a murky haze, forcing the cancellation or diversion of flights to and from the islands of Gran Canaria and Tenerife.

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

Over 800 flights were disrupted on Sunday, affecting thousands of passengers, but planes were able to fly through the night, helping to clear the backlog, the head of the regional government of the Canaries, Angel Victor Torres, said during an interview with Spanish public television.

At Tenerife's two airports local officials set up cots for stranded passengers who were not able to find hotel rooms, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

The sandstorm coincided with the start of the island's famous carnival festivities and many hotels were fully booked.

Known locally as "calimas", the storms form when strong winds whip up dense clouds of sand and dust from the Sahara and carry them across the 95 kilometres (60 miles) of sea separating the archipelago from the mainland.

Torres said this was the worst "calima" to strike the Canaries in four decades, calling it a "nightmare weekend".

About 1,000 locals and tourists who were evacuated in Tenerife on Sunday because of the risk from blazes which broke out in the north of the island have been allowed to return to their homes and hotels, he added.

Firefighters are trying to control wildfires in Tenerife and Gran Canaria by using water-dropping aircraft, which could not be deployed over the weekend because of poor visibility, Torres said.

The Canary Islands are a popular tourist destination for northern Europeans seeking winter sunshine. They 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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