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Flights grounded as dust storm hits Phoenix

The first dust storm of the summer blasted Phoenix Thursday night with strong and blinding winds that forced the cancellation of holiday plans, knocked out power to thousands, and grounded numerous flights.

All inbound and outbound traffic at Sky Harbor International Airport was halted between 8 p.m. and 8:30 PDT as a result of the storm, airport spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez said.

Operations had resumed by 8:45 p.m., but not before 24 inbound flights had been diverted to other airports, she said.

Meteorologist Charlotte Dewey of the National Weather Service told the Arizona Republic that the storm swept into the Phoenix area about 7:30 p.m.

The dust enveloped the city and caused traffic jams as drivers slowed down because of poor visibility.

The storm also ushered in the yearly monsoon season, bringing with it localized heavy rains.

Powerful winds, sometimes gusting to 50 mph, knocked down numerous trees and power lines.

Station KPHO said utilities were reporting that power was knocked out to more than 25,000 customers.

The storm also derailed holiday plans. The station said that among them was the cancellation of the "Red, White and Boom" Fourth of July fireworks show in southeast Phoenix.

A dust storm warning for the Phoenix area is in effect until 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, officials said firefighters were battling blazes in at least two buildings in west Phoenix. Local media reported that lightning is suspected of sparking the fires, which were being fueled by the strong winds.

The Weather Service is predicting a 30 to 35 percent chance of rain for Friday.

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