'Frustrated' Brits stuck in Canary Islands after 'apocalyptic' sandstorm

Flights have been grounded in and out of busy airports

British holidaymakers have been stranded overnight after an "apocalyptic" sandstorm in the Canary Islands closed airports.

Visibility across the islands was severely impacted by the sandstorm, which carried red dust from the Sahara desert.

Flights from Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma and North Tenerife are beginning to resume, but those departing South Tenerife continue to be grounded.

It is believed between 12,000 and 14,000 Britons have been stranded since Sunday because of the sandstorm, also known as a calima.

Strong winds carried the sand towards the popular tourist destinations, giving the air a dramatic red hue that one tourist from Belfast said made their trip feel "apocalyptic".

He managed to get away on one of the last flights back to the UK on Saturday, and told Sky News that the conditions made it "quite hard to breathe" during his final few hours abroad.

Another Briton, Michael Nixon, who went to Tenerife with his family for his 50th birthday, said he was worried the "pink dust" which had covered his rented apartment balcony would delay his flight home to Newcastle on Wednesday.

He described the sandstorm as "surreal" - and said it was difficult to see with all of the sand in the air.

Meanwhile, tourist Greg Horsman, who was due to fly home on Sunday, had his flight cancelled.

He said he felt the response had been "pretty shambolic" and it wasn't clear "who is running the show".

"We were one of the lucky ones. We were on a cruise so we managed to go back to the ship because it couldn't sail because of the weather.

"But I think there were a lot that were left in the airport. There were a lot that went to a hotel. It has all been a bit of a shambles.

"We were also lucky to get our suitcases back.

"There are families who have had their suitcases checked in but haven't had them now for three days. Pretty shambolic, really."

While some were stuck on the islands, others who had hoped to head out over the weekend remained in the UK.

One man hoping to go on a family holiday told Sky News that he had been at Gatwick since Saturday, with poor visibility caused by the calima making it too difficult for aircraft to take off and land.

Tim Crew, 69, was going to Lanzarote with his family for a holiday after cancelling a trip to Hong Kong and Thailand because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Their BA flight from Gatwick on Sunday was cancelled and the family has been booked into a hotel.

He said: "It's one of those things really. If no one had talked to us and if there had been obvious problems and culpability, I'd probably be quite annoyed.

"But everyone's done the right thing. The pilot came out a few times and told us in person and apologised, saying they had no more news at the moment and they were going to send us to a hotel.

"It's not great, it's not how I planned it, it's not what I want, but these things happen."

What is a calima?

Calimas are hot wind storms that carry sand towards the Canary Islands from the Sahara, capable of lifting dust thousands of metres above the Atlantic Ocean before blanketing the region.

They stem from the Saharan Air Layer - an extremely hot and dry layer of the atmosphere above the North African desert that overlies the cooler air of the Atlantic.

When passing over the Canaries, it forms a thick fog that reduces visibility and can cause breathing difficulties.

People still on the islands have been advised to stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed.

The regional government has declared a state of alert, with authorities in Lanzarote's capital Arrecife cancelling all outdoor activities including some carnival celebrations.