Swarms of pink locusts swept through Cairo on Wednesday that recalled the plague of biblical Egypt, flying high above tall towers and scaring pedestrians who stamped on them or ran for cover.
The swarms arrived from neighboring Libya after devouring the countryside in central and western Africa in past months. But locust experts said the insects were unlikely to wreak havoc in Egypt, where agriculture is a cornerstone of the economy.
“This is really horrible,” said one man as he ran past a building where locusts, some of them more than 3 inches long, smacked into office windows or landed on cars.
Some of the locusts, which arrived and disappeared in waves, settled on shrubs and trees. Authorities battled swarms at Cairo international airport, but flights were unaffected.
“They are driven by strong winds ... Under current climactic conditions they will not likely cause damage,” Christian Pantenius, a locust expert with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told Reuters.
Pantenius said the locusts would not feed actively when the temperature was under 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). Forecasts put Cairo’s temperature for the coming days at below 25 degrees Celsius.
Pantenius said the locusts were arriving in medium-sized swarms. “They will very likely either die or migrate further to the south,” he said, adding that the Saudi and Sudanese authorities had been alerted.
Agriculture is a key sector of the Egyptian economy, employing millions of people in the North African country, which has a population of about 70 million.
The locust swarms have already traveled on the wind from North Africa to Cyprus. They can form swarms of tens of millions, occupying hundreds of square kilometers (miles).
In the Old Testament, locusts were the eighth of 10 plagues which God brought on the Egyptians before Pharaoh, their ruler, relented and let the enslaved children of Israel go.