National

Saharan dust blankets Caribbean, nears US

Saharan dust blankets Caribbean, nears US

A giant cloud of Saharan dust is expected to reach the United States this week after travelling across the Atlantic Ocean from northern Africa and blanketing many Caribbean islands in recent days.

The massive plume could drift across Louisiana, Texas and other coastal US states as early as Wednesday, bringing enhanced sunrises and potentially pausing storm formation for a few days.

Dust clouds are not uncommon but this year's event is getting more attention because it appears to be the largest in decades.

A picture taken from the International Space Station shows the band of dust covering hundreds of kilometres over the Atlantic Ocean.

"We flew over this Saharan dust plume today in the west central Atlantic. Amazing how large an area it covers!" astronaut Doug Hurley tweeted earlier this week.

As the cloud began travelling across the Caribbean during the weekend, air quality in much of the region reached dangerous levels.

The Puerto Rican government urged its residents to stay indoors, especially people who have asthma, allergies or other respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.

Ibis Montalvo Felix, of the island's health department, said the dust cloud tends to reduce humidity, increase heat levels and bring chemicals that are harmful to some people.

"This is one of the most significant events in recent years and we must take it very seriously," she said in a statement.

In Trinidad and Tobago, authorities warned citizens to close their doors and windows, wear a mask during outdoor activities and use an air purifier at home.