Strong winds across Australia’s southeast coast yesterday caused commuter chaos at Sydney and Melbourne airports, the country’s two busiest, with thousands of travelers stranded after dozens of flights were canceled.
Winds gusting up to 70kph also fanned major bushfires along the east coast, threatening homes and forcing evacuations.
Sydney Airport canceled 76 flights after all but one runway was closed due to the strong winds, reducing the number of flights to 23 per hour, more than half the usual rate.
“It’s not safe to have flights landing or departing and as a result we are going to a single runway, there are delays,” Sydney Airport told reporters.
Melbourne Airport also reduced the number of flights allowed to arrive and depart each hour due to Sydney Airport cancelations.
The strong winds fanned fires across New South Wales, with the state’s Rural Fire Service reporting 21 fires.
A Boeing 737 modified for firefighting was deployed to bushfires around the city of Newcastle, north of Sydney, the agency said.
The aircraft can carry 15,000 liters of water or fire retardant.
“[This] was the first operational drop that its done in the world... It has proven to be effective,” agency spokesman Chris Garlick told reporters.
Fires around the popular tourist spot of Port Stephens, nearly 200km north of Sydney, forced an emergency evacuation of residents. There were no reports of injuries or loss of property.
Emergency workers said that the strong winds threaten to escalate the fires.
The strong winds are part of a massive weather system over southeast Australia that whipped up a 500km dust storm on Thursday, which swept across the drought-parched interior to blanket Sydney.
The weather system also introduced snow storms to southern parts of the country and around the capital, Canberra, due to icy winds and low temperatures in the southern end of the storm cell.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said winds would ease by yesterday evening, offering some respite to travelers and firefighters.
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