Natural disasters

Spain’s Canary Islands hit by Saharan sandstorm

The extreme weather conditions led to the closure of the region’s air and maritime space, and sparked wildfires in Gran Canaria and Tenerife

A ferry docked in Tenerife due to the sandstorm.
A ferry docked in Tenerife due to the sandstorm.Ramón de la Rocha / EFE

Spain’s Canary Islands were lashed over the weekend by one of the most powerful storms the archipelago has seen in recent years. A Saharan sandstorm with winds of up to 160 kilometers an hour led to the suspension of all flights and ferries to the islands due to low visibility.

The sandstorm also sparked a series of wildfires on the archipelago. On the island of Gran Canaria, 250 people had to be evacuated from Tasarte, in the municipality of Las Aldea de San Nicolás, after a blaze razed more than 500 hectares on Sunday. Around a thousand more people were also evacuated from the north of Tenerife.

Schools were closed on Monday, and all carnival-related events were cancelled.

The adverse weather forced authorities to cancel 230 flights during the first 24 hours of the storm, and worsening conditions led to a complete closure of the archipelago’s seven airports. The Gran Canaria airport reopened at around 9.30pm on Sunday, and the regional premier, Ángel Víctor Torres, said that it would be operational again on Monday.

Footage of the sandstorm in Spain’s Canary Islands (Spanish text).

Medical services were also affected by the travel restrictions, and a woman from Lanzarote had to be evacuated on an army SuperPuma helicopter after she had a stroke.

Meanwhile, firefighters were struggling to contain the flames, unable to use aircraft to fight the blazes from the air because of the powerful winds and low visibility. Military personnel were sent to the area to provide assistance.

In northern Tenerife, around a thousand people were evacuated from the areas of Los Realejos, Puerto de la Cruz, La Orotava and Santa Úrsula, while the TF-5 highway was cut off both ways.

Besides the fires, emergency services received hundreds of calls regarding falling trees and objects ranging from billboards to streetlamps.

The Canary Island regional government remains on alert for strong winds, which are making it difficult to control the wildfire in Tasarte.

Wildfire in Gran Canaria razes 300 hectares (Spanish audio).

English version by Susana Urra.