HAVANA • A huge cloud of Saharan dust darkened much of Cuba on Wednesday and began to affect air quality in the US state of Florida, sparking warnings to people with respiratory illnesses to stay home.
The dust cloud had swept across the Atlantic from Africa over the past week, covering the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico since Sunday and hitting south Florida on Wednesday, the authorities said.
Conditions over the Cuban capital Havana were expected to worsen yesterday, specialists on the Communist-run island reported. Dr Francisco Duran, head of epidemiology at the Ministry of Health, said the cloud is likely to “increase respiratory and allergic conditions”.
Air quality in Miami is currently “moderate”, the city’s health department said, adding that people with respiratory problems should stay home.
Weather forecasters for the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique warned residents that the area was suffering its worst haze in at least a decade.
Powered by strong winds, dust from the Sahara travels across the Atlantic Ocean from West Africa during the boreal spring.
But the density of the current dust cloud over Cuba “is well above normal levels”, said Cuban meteorologist Jose Rubiera.
“The highest concentration over the capital will occur tomorrow,” he said on Wednesday.
The Institute of Meteorology said temperatures in Cuba’s eastern province of Guantanamo reached 37.4 deg C on Wednesday, a record for this time of the year.
In Havana, scientist Eugenio Mojena said the phenomenon “causes an appreciable deterioration in air quality”. He said the dust clouds are loaded with material that is “highly harmful to human health”.
He listed “minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphorous, silicon and mercury” in the dust, and said the clouds also carried “viruses, bacteria, fungi, pathogenic mites, staphylococci and organic pollutants”.
Dr Duran ruled out any link with the coronavirus pandemic.
The government said its epidemic is under control and last week began to relax quarantine measures, with Havana the only area where restrictions remain because it continues to register infections. The island reported a single new case on Wednesday.