New Delhi: Flight operations in Delhi's Indira Gandhi International or IGI Airport were put on hold for over an hour on Sunday after a dust storm hit the national capital in the evening. Airport officials said 70 flights were diverted from Delhi and over two dozens were delayed.
The Delhi Police said two people were killed during the dust storm and 18 were injured in the national capital. In neighbouring Ghaziabad, one person was killed, and in Greater Noida a woman died after a billboard fell on her.
The runways at IGI Airport were shut between 5:15 pm and 6:50 pm as the strong dust storm swept across Delhi, severely limiting visibility. As the flights were diverted, airlines started informing passengers of the development on Twitter and by other means.
Hundreds of passengers were seen queuing up to the counters of several airlines to ask about their changed flight schedules when they got to know about the flight diversions.
Dozens of flights were diverted to Jaipur, Amritsar and Lucknow, people familiar with the matter said. Vistara said its Delhi-bound flights from Srinagar, Lucknow, Bhubaneswar, Mumbai and Goa were diverted. International flights from Katmandu, Riyadh, Colombo, Jeddah, Kabul were delayed. Flights from Tokyo, Newark and Colombo were diverted to other airports, people familiar with the matter said.
Traffic also came to a crawl on the roads leading to the airport and in other parts of Delhi as the dust storm hit light structures and trees. Vehicles were seen pulling to the side of the road with their hazard lights blinking.
A met department officer said south Delhi's Safdarjung observatory recorded a wind speed of 109 kmph. The Palam observatory recorded a wind speed of 96 kmph, the officer said.
The dust storm interrupted a programme Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was to attend in east Delhi's IP Extension.
The strong wind crashed through trees and turned the air a murky brown. The drizzle started soon after. Fallen branches were seen blocking some roads in south Delhi areas, leading to long traffic jam.
In open areas, people could be seen running for shelter. Shoppers at crowded markets were taken by surprise as the sudden wind hit light structures. At bus stops in south Delhi, people were seen huddling together to protect themselves as branches of overhead trees broke.
Last week, the met office predicted a huge storm across 13 states. Following the alert, schools in Delhi, Chandigarh and Haryana were shut and extra police forces and emergency services were put on standby. The promised storm, though, turned out to be far lower in intensity and the met office came under fire from people on social media for misleading prediction.
The weather office said thunderstorms are likely to hit north-west India over the next 48-72 hours, as several weather phenomenon including western disturbances, converge. A thunderstorm alert has been issued for states from Jammu and Kashmir to Uttar Pradesh and also in east and northeast India.