There were apocalyptic scenes in one of the world's major cities on Monday as authorities warned of the worst conditions seen in a decade.
The thick, orange haze blanketing Beijing was the result of a sandstorm which regularly plague northwestern China during its spring, however, its latest storm has hit much heavier than in recent years.
The sand was whisked up from the expansive Gobi desert and had spread from Inner Mongolia into the provinces of Gansu, Shanxi and Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, The China Meteorological Administration said as it announced a yellow alert.
Dramatic images from China's capital revealed the faint outlines of the city's skyline as residents and motorists battled the conditions.
"It looks like the end of the world," said Beijing resident Flora Zou, 25, who works in the fashion sector. "In this kind of weather I really, really don't want to be outside."
Heavy sandstorms also hit neighbouring Mongolia, with at least 341 people reported missing, according to China's state news agency Xinhua.
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Sandstorm grounds flights in Beijing
Flights have been grounded out of Hohhot, capital of China's Inner Mongolia.
Around a fifth of the incoming and outbound flights at Beijing Capital International Airport and Beijing Daxing International Airport had been cancelled as of noon (local time), more than usual during the sandstorm season, according to aviation data provider Variflight.
The sandstorms were expected to shift south towards the Yangtze River delta and should clear by Wednesday or Thursday, the environment ministry said.
The storms prompted a wave of social media activity on Weibo and WeChat, with some editing their images and video to reimagine movie scenes.
Beijing faces regular sandstorms in March and April due to its proximity to the massive Gobi desert as well as deforestation and soil erosion throughout northern China.
China's attempts to minimise impact of sandstorms
China has been trying to reforest and restore the ecology of the region to limit how much sand is blown into the capital.
Beijing has planted a "great green wall" of trees to trap incoming dust, and has also tried to create air corridors that channel the wind and allow sand and other pollutants to pass through more quickly.
The environment ministry said last year that the situation had improved, with the first storms now arriving much later in the year and not lasting as long as they did a decade ago.
Beijing and surrounding regions have suffered from high levels of pollution in recent weeks, with the city shrouded in smog during the national session of parliament which began on March 5.
"It's hard to claim we are moving forward when you can't see what's in front," Li Shuo, climate advisor with Greenpeace in Beijing, tweeted on Monday.
China's pollution dropped off during the height of its coronavirus outbreak however has since shot back and surpassed pre-Covid levels, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.