VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu is traveling with the U.S. forces in Iraq headed toward Baghdad. In an interview with with VOA's Michael Drudge in London, she gave a vivid description of the fierce sandstorm that hit Iraq Tuesday.
Drudge: Alisha, I understand the weather's taken a turn for the worse. Can you tell us what's happening?
Ryu: Yes. Turning for the worse is an understatement. We were told that a bad sandstorm was coming, but we had no idea what to expect. This is something I've never seen. I have seen some sandstorms in Afghanistan. But I will try to describe to you what exactly happened about an hour ago.
The weather started turning very, very blustery. The wind started picking up and it was howling at one point. Then the skies began to turn orange in color, and it was an orange, eerie color that I've never seen before. Everything turned like it was on the surface of Mars, and it cast an eerie glow all over. Then the orange turned into orangish-black, and it was almost like nighttime falling.
It is only five o'clock in the afternoon here, but at four o'clock, after the orange darkness glow just kind of went away, and all of a sudden we had pitch black. I mean, pitch black to the point we couldn't see anything in front of us, not even an inch in front of us, and then, all of a sudden, it started hailing and raining, raining quite heavily for just a few minutes. But the rain that was coming down was not refreshing; it was just taking all the dirt and dust on, so it was actually raining mud. And that went on for about 15 minutes.
Now it seems to be clearing up, but now the winds are picking up again, and the orangish glow is back again. I don't quite know what to say, except that it seems almost biblical. We joked around in the Army Command Center that the seven plagues of Egypt were coming, and perhaps this was the eighth plague.
Drudge: Alisha, what is this doing to military operations in the area where you are?
Ryu: Well, I spoke to one of the liaison officers from the 3rd Infantry Division. I asked him how this is affecting their plans, and he said actually this is a good thing because neither the U.S. forces nor the Iraqi forces could move or do anything in this weather, so it gives them a little time to rest up, it gives them a little time to regroup and perhaps just get some rest.
I'm sure very few people have gotten any sleep in the last three, four days. So he actually saw this as a good opportunity and, you know, much-needed opportunity for soldiers to just get some downtime. Right now nothing is going on, obviously, there's no planes flying, no nothing. I mean, everything's been grounded, and everyone has battened down the hatches and staying still where they are.
Drudge: Alisha, here in London, just a little while ago, we had a press conference in London with Prime Minister Blair, and he said that the forces are advancing toward Baghdad, and the moment of decision is near. Do you think that this will be slowing down that assault on Baghdad that we are anticipating?
Ryu: I don't think so. The weather forecast is actually fairly good by tomorrow afternoon, so I think the military planners are banking on that this is just a temporary kind of setback, that it's not going to last much longer than about twelve more hours, so I don't think that it will affect their time plan at all for any of the military operations that are scheduled.
Drudge: I don't know whether, can you tell us for security reasons where you are? Or are you constrained about that?
Ryu: I'm restricted from telling you exactly where I am. I can tell you that I am just south of where the 3rd Infantry Division is based right now.
Drudge: Right. Well, that's it for me. Thank you.