SYDENY: The worst dust storm in decades swept across

eastern Australia today, blanketing Sydney and snarling transport as freak conditions also brought earthquakes, giant hailstones and even a tornado.

Gale-force winds dumped thousands of tones of red desert dust on Australia’s biggest city, shrouding it in an eerie orange haze and coating the iconic Sydney Opera House in a fine layer of powder. The storm, reportedly the most serious since the 1940s, then spread 600 kilometres up the coast to Queensland and could even hit New Zealand, some 4,000 km away, experts said.

Dust covered most of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, pushing air pollution to record levels and depositing about 75,000 tones of powder in the Tasman Sea every hour.

“Dust storms like this occur quite regularly but they rarely travel this far east and come through Sydney,” said John Leys, principal research scientist with New South Wales’ Department of Climate Change and Water.

Sydney residents wore face masks and covered their mouths with scarves as they travelled to work under hazy skies. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper on major highways.

Air transport was also

severely disrupted.