Massive sandstorm, record winds hit Tehran

TEHRAN (AFP) - A massive sandstorm and record winds on Monday plunged the Iranian capital into darkness, damaging buildings, knocking out power supplies and causing widespread disruption.

The freak weather which struck at 5.10 pm local time (1240 GMT) sent residents dashing for cover as debris swept across streets and snapped trees. State media reported 120 kilometre-per-hour winds. Early reports did not give details of casualties or damage, but experts on state television warned Tehranis to stay indoors.

A woman running into a shop in the capital's central business district to escape the gales said: "This is like an apocalyptic Hollywood movie. I'm scared."

"I've never seen anything like this. I was afraid it was an omen of things to come," a man inside the same building said. Residents of earthquake-prone Iran usually make such comments when they fear a strong tremor is imminent.

After a 15-minute gloom caused by the sandstorm, it started to rain with winds remaining strong. State television's main weather forecaster, Mohammad Asghari, warned that the bad weather could continue for two hours.

Flights out of Tehran were delayed, Fars news agency said, quoting airport officials. Internet and telephone services were heavily affected.

About 90 minutes later, the winds appeared to ease and cars returned on the streets, although many opted for caution, staying on in office buildings.