In haze-filled Washington, tourists are undeterred

By Inès BEL AIBA

On many ordinary days, one can gaze down the National Mall from the Washington Monument and clearly see the dome of the US Capitol offset by blue sky.

But today, an acrid haze from wildfires in Canada cloaks the city.

That appeared to not bother some tourists, who strolled along wearing “Trump 2024” baseball caps or freshly purchased hats emblazoned with “Washington DC.”

Public schools in the city canceled all outdoor activities due to an air quality alert, but out-of-town teenagers on school trips happily performed acrobatics on the lawn for photos, with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.

One 61-year-old tourist from Nebraska says the haze added an “ethereal” quality that “kind of makes things beautiful.”

“It actually happens all the time with us,” she says, giving her name only as Diane. “We have controlled burns in Oklahoma and Kansas. So this happens.”

Her husband, David, visiting Washington for the first time, nods in agreement. “If a 10 were perfect, still an eight” despite the haze, he says.

Near them, an American tourist on a phone describes what she sees: “It’s very smoggy here because of the wildfires in Canada!”

“That looks creepy,” agrees her friend, looking up at the Capitol, whose silhouette can barely be made out in the distance.

The friend, Adriana George, 31, from Tucson, Arizona, adds: “The fog is everywhere and it just seems kind of gloomy.” But fortunately, with moderate temperatures and a light morning breeze, “the weather’s been great.”

Although she suffers from asthma, George says it hasn’t bothered her for the past two days.

– ‘Used to the pollution’ –

Many foreign tourists say they’re having a great time despite the haze.

Choi Yoonjung, from South Korea, explains with a smile, thanks to a friend’s translation, that “it’s like this” in the south of South Korea when it comes to pollution.

The same was true of Hemadri Vora, 42, who had come from Mumbai in India and was spending the day in Washington with her family after a visit to New York. “We wouldn’t feel it that much because we’re kind of used to the pollution!” she laughs.

The day before, while visiting the Statue of Liberty and not having followed the news from Canada, she admits she was “a bit scared” when she saw the haze, thinking it was an incoming storm and not smoke from northern fires.

She just regrets that the photos of her trip aren’t under blue skies. “Obviously, the pictures are not going to be very clear,” she says.

While many Washingtonians heeded public health warnings and wore masks outdoors on Thursday, few tourists did so.

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency told AFP that more than 100 million Americans were affected by air quality alerts due to the drifting smoke from Canada.

Until it clears, perhaps this weekend, visitors are trying to enjoy the city.

As sirens sounded and police cars sped down Constitution Avenue near the White House, tourists speculated.

“That must be the British prime minister,” Rishi Sunak, who is visiting Washington, says one man excitedly. — Agence France-Presse

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