By Jorge Fuentelsaz
New York, Jun 7 (EFE).- New York City on Wednesday took on an apocalyptic look due to thick smoke from hundreds of wildfires that have been burning for days in Canada and which has been blown more than 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) to cover the Big Apple.
Times Square was bathed in orange light, the sun seemed like a little yellow ball that scarcely shed any light amid the dense cloud of smoke that began filling the city starting about noon on Wednesday.
The buildings of the city as seen from Central Park seemed to be the masts of some fantastic ship. The city smelled of burning wood, of fire. Many streetlight went on automatically given the dark conditions at the height of the infusion of smoke.
People began wearing facemasks to protect themselves from the smoke all over town, something that had not been seen in many months, and many public buildings, such as schools, canceled any and all outdoor activities.
New York Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said Wednesday that the city is registering its highest levels of air pollution since the 1960s.
He warned that the fine particles suspended in the air can get into people’s lungs, cause inflammation and worsen conditions like asthma, chronic pulmonary diseases and underlying heart problems.
Vasan also warned that the situation could last for several days and called on New Yorkers to avoid going out on the street unless “absolutely necessary” and recommended that people use facemasks, in particular the N95 mask, if they have to be out of doors.
The city’s emergency management commissioner, Zachary Iscol, said that the smoke from the many forest fires to the west along the US border with Canada have significantly affected air quality in New York and throughout the northeastern US.
He reiterated that expectations are that the current environmental alert will remain in effect for the next few days, warning that the amount of smoke that will be in the air will be very difficult to predict.
New York Mayor Eric Adams said that on Tuesday New Yorkers saw and smelled something that had never impacted the city to such a degree before, referring to the smoke that began to be seen on Tuesday afternoon.
He also warned the public that although this is the first time that something like this has affected the city, it will not be the last.
Saying that climate change is accelerating situations such as these, Adams added that mankind must continue to reduce emissions, improve air quality and take other measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.
New York is not the only large US urban area being affected by the smoke. Residents of at least five states awoke to hazy and smoky conditions that led authorities to warn the public about the “dangerous” atmospheric conditions and to recommend that they limit their outside activities.
In Canada, meanwhile, the smoke created by some 400 forest fires that are currently active throughout the country on Wednesday set off alarm bells in Toronto, the country’s largest city, where air quality worsened on Tuesday night and officials raised the associated risk from moderate to “elevated.”
At those levels, Canadian health authorities have also recommended that people refrain from undertaking outdoor activities, and they predicted that the poor conditions will last at least until the weekend, when the arrival of a low pressure front will – hopefully – bring clean air.