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Canadian wildfires choke US Northeast

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-08 09:05

People watch the sunset as haze and smoke caused by wildfires in Canada hang over the Manhattan skyline, in New York City, New York, US, June 7, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Haze and smoke with dangerous fumes from hundreds of Canadian wildfires covered most of the US Northeast for a second day Wednesday, with New York City experiencing the world's worst air quality over the last two days.

The Big Apple became The Big Orange by midday Wednesday as the sky over the nation's largest city plunged into a deep hazy orange. Streets in Manhattan resembled what they were like during the COVID-19 pandemic as residents and commuters again wore masks and heeded warnings from health officials about the impact of fine particles known as PM2.5, which can lead to respiratory illnesses.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul called the air quality "an emergency crisis" and said Wednesday that the state is making one million N95 masks available to the public.

Approximately 400,000 N95 masks will be distributed at New York state parks, and at subway stations and other locations in New York City, Hochul said at a press briefing. An additional 600,000 masks will be made available at Homeland Security stockpiles for local governments to pick up, she said.

Hochul called the poor air quality "unprecedented" and "a very serious, dangerous situation." She recommended that people across the state cancel outdoor activities. "Simply stay indoors. Outdoors is dangerous in just about every part of our state," the governor said.

Officials at the briefing said they have been monitoring any potential upticks in respiratory illnesses or health issues due to the poor air quality, but that no spikes have yet been reported, Hochul said.

The Manhattan skyline is seen covered in haze and smoke caused by a wildfire in Canada, in New York, US, June 7, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

New York City's air quality index soared past 400 into the "hazardous" range on the AQI Wednesday afternoon, which is the worst category on the US government's air quality tracker. It was the highest AQI number for the city since records began in 1999.

The city's air was more polluted than all the world's major cities Wednesday morning, according to data from Swiss technology company IQAir. Dubai and Delhi came in second and third, respectively. At 10 pm Tuesday, the city had the worst air quality of any major city in the world, IQAir said.

For much of Wednesday, the air-quality index in Syracuse topped 400, according to AirNow. In Binghamton, about 60 miles south of Syracuse, Mike Hardiman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told The New York Times the city "looks like Mars" and "smells like cigars".

In all, more than 100 million Americans were affected by air quality alerts, the Environmental Protection Agency said. The smoke and haze prompted serious air quality alerts in at least 16 states.

A man wearing a mask walks along the East River in Long Island as haze and smoke caused by wildfires in Canada hang over New York City, New York, US, June 7, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had halted all inbound flights to New York's LaGuardia airport early Wednesday afternoon due to the wildfire smoke but lifted that restriction by late afternoon. However, delays remained at the airport. Low visibility was leading to a ground stop for some arriving flights at Newark Liberty International airport. The FAA also said the extreme wildfire smoke haze lingering over the Northeast could delay flights through Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., CNN reported.

Hundreds of fires have been burning in eastern Canada for weeks. Canadian officials listed more than 240 as "out of control". So far, Canada has seen more than 8.7 million acres burn — an area larger than the state of Vermont.

More smoke and haze are expected Thursday out of Canada from a cold front that is moving north to south. Zack Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland, said there is some chance of rain Thursday and Friday in the Northeast and New England that could help reduce air pollution.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said students should still go to school on Wednesday, but all schools would cancel outdoor activities for a second day.

Vineyard Theater, an Off-Broadway nonprofit in the Union Square neighborhood of Manhattan, has canceled tonight's performance of the play "This Land Was Made", citing "hazardous air quality conditions".

Due to the unhealthy air, Major League Baseball postponed Wednesday night's games in New York and Philadelphia.

As of Wednesday afternoon, IQAir said New York City's pollution was fourth worst in the world, behind New Delhi, India; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Toronto, Canada.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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