The Sandstorm That Ate Riyadh

As I have related before, growing up on the plains of Texas, I had more than one occasion to look off toward the western horizon and see a wall of dust rising hundreds of feet into the air.  Unless you’ve seen it, it’s hard to imagine and difficult to believe.  Once you see it, you never forget it.

Now, I’ve seen a dust storm for which it is next to impossible to communicate the immensity and completely usurps the pinnacle of such storms in my mind.

The Texas dust storms of my youth moved across the Panhandle like a great, dark curtain – simply enfolding everything in their path as they shrouded the sun and light disappeared.  We’d run inside, close the windows, and hope not too much of the dirt would make its way inside the house.  Quiet, somewhat peaceful, all-consuming.

On Tuesday, 10 March, as I walked through the computer lab in which I work, I overheard one of the guys talking on his cell phone.  He said, “So, it’s already hit Romaizan Compound?  It’s heading our way?  Oh.  It’s already hit Kingdom Tower?”

This only could be one of two things:  rain or dust.  Being March, either possibility wouldn’t have been too surprising; however, if it was phone call worthy, I thought it might be worth a trip outside to see what was heading in our direction.  So, I went outside and looked back toward the East, and I was shocked by what I saw.

The photo cannot do justice to the roiling, twisting aliveness of the dust storm as it crawled across the ground toward us.  The only comparison I can draw is to the dust storm (minus the eerie faces) showcased in the movie The Mummy.  This storm was alive.

The storm crept across the horizon.  Imagine the evil darkness overtaking the land in a fantasy novel, such as The Lord of the Rings, and you would not be too far off in what this was like.

Before long, most of the guys in the building were outside watching this thing roll in upon us.  While a few folks said they’d seen such a storm before, most everyone – including the majority of the Saudis present – said they had never before witnessed a sandstorm like this.

The wind picked up and whipped around our bodies as the dust swallowed the most eastern half of our work compound.  More and more of the guys went back inside of the protective walls of the building.  But, there were several of us, like wonder-struck little boys witnessing the awesomeness of an oncoming tornado, who stayed put and rode the edge until the storm reached us.

And the world changed.

What cannot be realized by this last photo (due to the limitations of my phone-cam) is just how red the color of the world became.  Deep, deep, deep red.  Think Sedona.  Think the red caliche clay of Texas and Georgia.  Inside the building, a couple of doors don’t have weather stripping on the bottom of them, and a bright red line of color shown through like the last edge of a sunset on the ocean’s horizon.

Our world remained crimson for another 8 hours or so.  The news agencies in the area referred to the storm as generational and said it was the biggest sandstorm to hit Riyadh in over 40 years.  The airport shutdown completely.  Over in Kuwait and Bahrain and Dammam (KSA), the seaports all shutdown, along with their airports.

An amazing experience communicated, oh so weakly, here.

You can see the complete set of photos on my Flickr page.

All photos and text, Copyright 2009, Greg Hubbard.

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