MADRID: A persistent blizzard has blanketed large parts of Spain with 50-year record levels of snow, killing at least four people and leaving thousands trapped in cars or in train stations and airports that had suspended all services as the snow kept falling on Saturday.
The bodies of a man and woman were recovered by the Andaluca region emergency service after their car was washed away by a flooded river near the town of Fuengirola. The Interior Ministry 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 remained on alert, five of them on their highest level of warning, for Storm Filomena. In the capital, authorities activated the 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.
More than 50 centimetres (20 inches) of snow fell in the capital. By 7am on Saturday, the AEMET national weather agency had recorded the highest 24-hour snowfall seen since 1971 in Madrid.
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, said Morena, 22.
Snow can be very beautiful but spending the night trapped in a car because of it is no fun, she added.
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 move northeast throughout Saturday but it is expected to be followed by a cold snap, the agency said.
Transport Minster Jos Luis balos 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,” balos added.
Carlos Novillo, head of the Madrid emergency agency, said that more than 1,000 vehicles had become trapped, mostly on the city’s ring road and the main motorway that leads from the capital to the south, toward the Castilla La Mancha and Andalucia regions.