(AP) Fog and pollution descended on northern China on Sunday, forcing international golf and tennis players to play in hazardous smog and leading to flight cancellations and road closures as millions of Chinese headed home from a national holiday.
On Beijing's biggest weekend of the year for sports so far, spectators at the China Open tennis tournament and an inaugural ladies golf tournament pulled their shirts up over their faces and used masks and bandanas to try to avoid the noxious air.
At the Reignwood LPGA Classic, the first Ladies Professional Golf Association event held in China, golf tee times were delayed to allow some of it to dissipate, but many players, including Germany's Sandra Gal, still donned masks.
In another part of the city, spectators were also uneasy on the final day of the China Open, where the world's No. 1 and 2 players, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, were due to play each other in the final Sunday afternoon.
In some areas of Beijing, visibility dropped to less than 500 meters (yards) on Saturday night and Sunday morning, according to China's National Meteorological Center. It said the haze hanging over a large area of northern China, including Hebei province which neighbors Beijing and the port city of Tianjin would persist until Monday afternoon.
The oppressive smog in the capital sparked a high pollution alert from the U.S. Embassy, which monitors air quality. In an email to American citizens, it said its readings had averaged more than 300 on its air quality index in the 24 hours beginning Friday evening and more than 400 overnight Saturday. Anything over 301 on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scale is considered hazardous to health. It recommended people stay indoors and run air purifiers continuously.
The smog came at one of China's peak travel times at the end of the Oct. 1-7 holiday known as Golden Week when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel. The holiday is characterized anyway by long lines of traffic and delayed journeys, complicated further Sunday by the partial closure, according to state media, of six inter-provincial expressways, including one linking Beijing and Shanghai. Nearly 30 highways were also restricted around the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area.
Beijing Capital International Airport said four international flights had been cancelled Sunday morning, including to Mongolia and Russia, while three others had been delayed. Two domestic flights were cancelled and 20 delayed.
The airport said on its microblog at lunchtime that flights were gradually returning to normal and that visibility was more than 800 meters (half a mile) and was expected to increase further to 1,000 to 1,500 meters (nearly one mile) during Sunday afternoon.
AP writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report.