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May 27, 2:03 PM EDT

Temperatures soar across Mideast countries amid sandstorms

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Temperatures soar across Mideast countries amid sandstorms

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Conflict in the Middle East

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CAIRO (AP) -- Temperatures soared across the Middle East on Wednesday, with winds and sandstorms driving people indoors as unlucky pedestrians tried to shield themselves from the sun with books, newspapers or anything they could find.

In the Egyptian capital, Cairo, the thermometer hit 44 degrees Celsius (112 degrees Fahrenheit) in the afternoon, a level rarely touched this early in the year. Fewer people on foot braved the baking streets near central Tahrir Square, while some sat on plastic chairs dangling their feet into the Nile. Sandstorms later turned skies brown.

"While I was taking an exam, the sweat was dropping on the paper," said student Mohamed Said, who had just left class. In Cairo's Metro, some stations had air conditioning but most cars did not, leaving many soaking wet with sweat.

Air traffic control in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria said a sandstorm obscured visibility so badly that they had to shut down Burj Al Arab airport and divert three flights to Cairo that were coming from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

In Libya, a sandstorm in the east blew up dust that was orange-red, driving residents of the city of Beyda indoors where air conditioning use increased, leading to a few hours of power cuts, local media reported.

The Gaza Strip, still largely in rubble following last year's war with Israel, suffered particularly from the heat due to electricity shortages that meant little air conditioning. With temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), Palestinians still homeless since the war tried to ease the heat by spraying water on the tents they live in. Children and adults licked cones topped with multicolored ice cream and slurped frozen fruit drinks.

In Iraq, the temperature already has been topping 40 degrees Celsius for days on average, with hotter months still ahead through August. Lengthy power cuts bring cities to virtual standstills between noon and sunset, with many heading home from work for midday breaks while young people seek out pools and rivers with shady banks.

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