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Riau declares emergency over haze, Phuket offers free masks

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Phuket offers free masks as air quality moves into unhealthy range

JAMBI: The island of Phuket in Thailand is offering free masks as the air quality moved into the unhealthy range.

The Air Quality Index hit 158 at 9am before dropping to 119 at noon, according to the Beijing-based website aqicn.org.

The southern district of Hat Yai also recorded unhealthy levels, The Straits Times reported.

The haze is thicker on the beaches than its city centre as mountains block some of the smoke blowing inland, said Thai Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation official Charn Jindachote.

Another government official said: "The haze originates from forest fires from Indonesia."

Phuket Provincial Health Office head Thanit Sermkaew issued a health advisory, urging those with breathing difficulties, children and the elderly to stay indoors.

In Malaysia, the air quality in Kota Baru was registered at an "unhealthy" 112, while Kuala Terengganu's air quality was at 127 as of 10am yesterday, the Malaysian Department of Environment's Air Pollutant Index (API) readings showed, reported the New Straits Times. Kuantan, Pahang fared worse, with an API reading of 159.

In Indonesia, Riau's governor declared a state of emergency yesterday. On Sunday, the PM10 Pollutant Standards Index in Pekanbaru surged at 10pm to cross 700, above levels seen during Indonesia's worst haze episode in 2015. It dropped to 489 at 7am yesterday.

Mr Syamsuar said the emergency would be until Oct 31 and will be extended if there is no improvement, Antara reported.

Mr Syamsuar, who is also commander of the Riau provincial land and forest fire control task force, said the provincial government will soon prepare places to evacuate residents susceptible to the haze, Antara reported.

In a related development, the sky in Jambi turned red on Sunday as the haze rose to the upper levels of the atmosphere, reported Sinar Harian.

Images of the red sky went viral, The Star reported.

Indonesia National Board for Disaster Management information chief Agus Wibowo Soet said the phenomenon, known as Rayleigh scattering, was caused by the movement of haze away from hot spots.