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Haze increases in Singapore, rain clears Jakarta skies

October 2, 1997

SINGAPORE (AP) _ Skyscrapers in Singapore disappeared into a whitish-gray haze Thursday as smog from forest fires in neighboring Indonesia blanketed the city.

Visibility was limited to one mile and the government warned people not to engage in vigorous outdoor activities.

The Pollution Standard Index _ developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to measure air pollutants _ rose throughout the day, hitting 169 by evening. A level of 100 is considered unhealthy, and normal activities at that level can cause skin and eye irritations, sneezing and coughing.

Hundreds of fires, many of them deliberately set to clear land for plantations, have been burning in forests and scrub lands across Indonesia for weeks, producing a thick haze that has drifted over Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei and Singapore.

Health officials have linked the deaths of four Indonesians to smoke inhalation and thousands of people have fallen ill.

A late wind shift today saved Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, from the choking haze. Heavy rains cleared skies in the Indonesia’s northern sections of Sumatra, Borneo and New Guinea.

A weather expert in Australia, however, predicted that lasting relief was still some way off.

``Logically, you wouldn’t expect probably much (rain) until the end of October,″ Keith Coles of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said in Canberra. ``It may even be delayed after that.″

Normally, heavy monsoon rains extinguish fires at this time of year. However, meteorologists say El Nino, an abnormal weather pattern over the Pacific Ocean, has triggered Indonesia’s worst drought in half a century.

In Malaysia, a peat fire that raged for three days in the east coast state of Pahang was brought under control Thursday. Firefighters had to dig 6-foot ditches to halt the fire’s spread because peat fires burn several feet into the ground.

Pahang Fire Director Amer Yusof said the source of that fire had yet to be determined but he did not believe it had been set to clear land.

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