Canary Islands: flights resume after sandstorm stranded travellers

Sam Jones in Madrid
Photograph: Andres Gutierrez/AP

Flights are resuming from airports across the Canary Islands after a sandstorm from the Sahara dyed the archipelago’s skies a thick orange and reduced visibility, leaving thousands of travellers stranded.

On Monday morning, Spain’s airport authority, Aena, said all the islands’ eight airports were once again operating, but with reduced capacity.

In a tweet, Aena said that 822 flights had been affected by the weather conditions, and advised travellers to check with their airlines.

Passengers waiting outside Tenerife South airport after flights were cancelled due to a sandstorm on Sunday. Photograph: Desiree Martin/AFP via Getty Images

The meteorological phenomenon, which is known as a calima, was accompanied by strong winds of up to 75mph that fanned at least three wildfires on different Canary islands.

Large numbers of dragonflies were also reported along beaches in Gran Canaria.

Primary schools across the archipelago were closed on Monday and the regional president, Ángel Víctor Torres, said it had been a “nightmare weekend” and the worst calima in 40 years.

“We’ve been dealing with four different phenomena at the same time: rough seas, winds, fires and the calima, which has had a huge effect on the day-to-day life in the Canaries,” Torres told Spain’s public broadcaster, TVE, on Monday morning.

Related: Canary Islands sandstorm leaves tourists stranded – in pictures

He said the 1,000 people evacuated from their properties in northern Tenerife were beginning to return home, adding that improving visibility should help aerial efforts to put out the fires.

Passengers stranded at airports had posted photographs of people camped out on the floor while they waited for information.

Cars on the TF-1 highway during a sandstorm in Santa Cruz de Tenerife on Sunday. Photograph: Desiree Martin/AFP via Getty Images

Greg Horsman, 29, was on holiday with his girlfriend and his friends on a Tui cruise and had been due to fly home to Manchester on Saturday evening.

However, they were forced to stay in Gran Canaria for another two nights due to the storm. “It’s frustrating. We’re just ready to be home,” he told PA Media.

“There should be contingency plans for when a weather event grounds flights. They all kept saying: ‘Oh we’ve never seen this happen before’, which I understand, it’s a freak of nature, but when weather grounds all flights there is surely a contingency plan that gets put into place so people can get accommodation sorted.”

A spokeswoman for Tui said: “We would like to sincerely apologise to customers for the disruption caused by the adverse and changeable weather conditions in the Canary Islands on Saturday February 22 and Sunday February 23.

“The safety of our customers and crew is always our highest priority and we are working tirelessly to find the best solutions for all our customers.”