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Sydney chokes in smoke as Australia bushfires intensify, current period of poor air quality the ‘longest’ and ‘most widespread’ in the state’s history


The air quality in Sydney, Australia continued to worsen on Tuesday, December 10, 2019, as roughly 100 bushfires burned in New South Wales (NSW) and strong north winds brought further smoke into the city. The haze was so thick in some areas that it was 11 times more severe than the level considered hazardous. A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Planning, Industry, and Environment said the current period of poor air quality is the "longest and "most widespread" in the state's history.​

"The smoke here in Sydney is extremely bad today; it is some of the worst air quality we've seen," said Richard Broome of NSW Health. "We are just urging people once again to take these [conditions] seriously."

NSW Ambulance Superintendent Brent Armitage also said that on Tuesday, the service attended to dozens of calls related to respiratory health issues.

Given the dire air quality, Unions NSW's assistant secretary Thomas Costa voiced out that workers should not be forced to do labor on outdoor sites while the haze persists. "Toxicity is very, very high," Costa emphasized.

Residents have taken to social media to share images and videos of the weather conditions.

"This wasn't the white Christmas I was dreaming of," a Twitter user posted on his account.

The smoke has also caused fire alarms to go off. In addition, Sydney Trains warned that fire alarms at train stations might also be set off.

The city has canceled ferries, and some offices in the downtown area were evacuated.

Health officials advised people to stay indoors as much as possible. People with heart and lung ailments were told to avoid outdoor activity. 

"I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly get worse. And then it did," said another resident as she posted a video of haze blanketing the surroundings.

Landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge can be seen smothered in smoke. BBC's Phil Mercer said the smoke in the air makes breathing feel like being a heavy smoker.

The smoke is being pushed towards the coast by westerly winds from bushfires outside of Sydney, said the NSW Rural Fire Service. Moreover, the Bureau of Meteorology said a southerly change is set to ease temperatures and smoke levels.

Bureau of Meteorology's Helen Kirkup warned the conditions, which have led to NSW’s worst bushfire season, will possibly continue throughout the summer.

"We are looking at a below-average rainfall summer so that’s not going to help anything," Kirkup said. "We are expecting, once it’s dry and it’s getting hot, we are going to have bad fire conditions persist through the summer."

Featured image credit: Yudhana Sunartha


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