A persistent blizzard on Saturday blanketed large parts of Spain with an unusual amount of snow, killing at least four people and leaving thousands trapped in vehicles or at train stations and airports that suspended all services.
The national weather agency reported that as of 7am, the snowfall in Madrid reached a level unseen in a half-century.
More than 50cm of snow fell in the Spanish capital, the weather agency AEMET said.
The bodies of a man and woman were recovered by the Andalucia region emergency service after their car was washed away by a flooded river near the town of Fuengirola.
The Spanish Ministry of the Interior said a 54-year-old man was also found dead in Madrid under a big pile of snow.
A homeless man died of hypothermia in the northern city of Zaragoza, the local police department reported.
More than half of Spain’s provinces on Saturday evening remained under severe weather alerts for Storm Filomena, seven of them at the highest level of warning.
In Madrid, authorities activated a red alert for the first time since the system was adopted four decades ago and called in the military to rescue people from vehicles trapped on everything from small roads to the city’s major thoroughfares.
Sandra Morena, who became trapped late on Friday as she commuted to her night shift as a security guard in a shopping center, arrived home, on foot, after an army emergency unit helped her out on Saturday morning.
“It usually takes me 15 minutes, but this time it has been 12 hours freezing, without food or water, crying with other people because we didn’t know how we were going to get out of there,” Morena, 22, said.
“Snow can be very beautiful, but spending the night trapped in a car because of it is no fun,” she added.
As of Saturday evening, Spanish security services had rescued all the people who were trapped in vehicles — more than 1,500, Spanish Minister of the Interior Fernando Grande-Marlaska said.
AEMET had warned that some regions would be receiving more than 24 hours of continuous snowfall due to the odd combination of a cold air mass stagnant over the Iberian Peninsula and the arrival of the warmer Storm Filomena from the south.
The storm is expected to be followed by a severe drop in temperatures in the coming days, the agency said.
Spanish Minister of Transport Jose Luis Abalos warned that “snow is going to turn into ice and we will enter a situation perhaps more dangerous than what we have at the moment.”
He added that the priority was to assist those in need, but also to ensure the supply chain for food and other basic goods.
“The storm has exceeded the most pessimistic forecasts we had,” Abalos said.
Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas International Airport, the main gateway in and out of Spain, was to remain closed at least until yesterday, Abalos said, after the blizzard bested machines and workers trying to keep the runways clear of snow.
All trains into and out of Madrid, both commuter routes and long-distance passenger trains, as well as railway lines between the south and the northeast of the country, were suspended, railway operator Renfe said.
The storm had caused serious disruptions or closed more than 650 roads, said transit authorities, who urged people to stay indoors and avoid all non-essential travel.
More than 100 roads were still impassable almost 24 hours after the storm began dumping snow on the central swathe of the country.
The Spanish government plans to take extra steps to ensure that the country’s weekly shipment of the BioNTech-Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine today can be distributed to regional health authorities via police-escorted convoys, Grande-Marlaska said.
The regions of Castilla La Mancha and Madrid, home to 8.6 million people altogether, announced that schools would be closed at least today and tomorrow.
Despite the numerous branches and even whole trees toppled by the weight of the snow, the blizzard also yielded surreal images that entertained many Madrilenos, including a few brave skiers and a man on a dog sled that was seen on videos widely circulated on social media.
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