Residents of Beijing woke up to a choking orange hue in the air on Monday as strong winds whipped up dust from the Gobi Desert and deposited it across northern China. The country’s weather bureau is calling it the worst such sandstorm in a decade.
In Beijing, morning commuters navigated cars and motorbikes through the haze, which NPR’s Emily Feng describes as “Mars-like.”
The thick cloud of dust also caused more than 400 flights at the capital’s two main airports to be canceled, The Associated Press reports.
Beijing resident Flora Zou told Reuters that “It looks like the end of the world,” adding, “In this kind of weather I really, really don’t want to be outside.”
Beijing’s air quality index, which last year averaged around 80, saw readings at 999 on Monday. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers 100 or less on the index to be “acceptable” and its highest health warning level is pegged at “301 or higher.”
Monday’s sandstorm ranged from Xinjiang and Gansu in China’s northwest to Inner Mongolia and Hebei, the weather bureau said, announcing a “yellow alert” due to the conditions, according to the South China Morning Post. In all, 12 provinces and cities in northern China were engulfed in the sandstorm, as were parts of neighboring Mongolia, according to China’s Global Times, a newspaper published by the Chinese Communist Party.
In Mongolia, authorities reported six deaths and dozens of people missing as a result of the sandstorm, the BBC reports.
Decades of deforestation in China used to bring monthly sandstorms to Beijing and other parts of China, but a government-sponsored tree-planting program in recent years has reduced their frequency.