Madrid (AFP) — A continuous snowstorm has blanketed large parts of Spain with record levels of snow for 50 years, killing at least four people and leaving thousands trapped in cars or in train stations and airports that have suspended all services as the snow continues. Saturday.
The bodies of a man and a woman were recovered by the Andalusia emergency service, after their car washed away in a flooded river near the town of Fuengirola. The Interior Ministry said that a 54-year-old man was found dead in Madrid under a large pile of snow. The local police department reported that a homeless person died of hypothermia in the northern city of Zaragoza.
More than half of Spain’s provinces remained on alert on Saturday afternoon, five of them on the highest alert levels, due to Storm Felomena. In the capital, authorities activated the red alert for the first time since the system was adopted four decades ago, calling on the army to rescue people from vehicles trapped on everything from small roads to the city’s main roads.
More than 50 centimeters (20 inches) of snow fell in the capital. By 7am on Saturday, the national weather agency AEMET had recorded the highest snowfall in a 24-hour period since 1971 in Madrid.
Sandra Morena, who was trapped late Friday night as she was traveling to her night shift as a security guard at a shopping mall, arrived at her home on foot after an army emergency unit helped her out on Saturday morning.
«It usually takes 15 minutes, but this time it was 12 hours of freezing, without food or water,» said 22-year-old Morena. «I cried with other people because we didn’t know how we would get out of there.»
She added, «Snow can be very beautiful, but spending the night trapped in a car because of it is not fun.»
AEMET has warned that some areas will receive more than 24 hours of continuous snowfall due to the strange combination of the stagnation of the cold air mass over the Iberian Peninsula and the arrival of warm storm Philomena from the south.
The agency said that the storm was expected to move in the northeast of the country throughout Saturday, but was expected to be followed by a cold wave.
Transport Minister Jose Luis Opalos has warned that «the snow will turn into ice and we will enter a situation that may be more dangerous than what we have at the moment.»
He added that the priority is to help those in need but also to ensure the supply chain for food and other basic commodities.
«The storm has exceeded our most pessimistic expectations,» added Opalus.
More than 1,000 cars were trapped, Carlos Novello, head of Madrid’s emergency agency, most of them on the city’s ring road and the main highway that leads from the capital to the south, towards the regions of Castilla-La Mancha and Andalusia.
“The situation remains precarious. This is a very complex phenomenon and a critical situation,” Novello said on Saturday morning in a message posted on social media.
He added, «We ask all those who remain trapped to be patient, and we will reach you.»
Airport operator AENA said Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas International Airport, the main gateway in and out of the country, will remain closed all day after a snowstorm outpaces machinery and workers trying to keep runways clear of snow.
Rail operator Renfe said all trains to and from Madrid, both commuter lines and long-distance trains, as well as railways between the south and northeast of the country, have been suspended.
The storm had caused serious disruptions or had completely closed more than 650 routes by Saturday morning, according to Spanish transit authorities, who urged people to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel.
The winter weather even halted the country’s soccer league, as some La Liga teams were unable to travel to participate in the matches. Saturday’s match between La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao was postponed after the plane carrying Bilbao on Friday failed to land in the capital and had to turn.
The Castilla-La Mancha and Madrid regions, home to 8.6 million people in all, announced the closure of schools on at least Monday and Tuesday.
Despite the numerous branches and even whole trees toppled by the weight of the snow, the snowstorm also yielded surreal images that many skiers enjoyed, including a few brave skiers and a man on a dog sled seen in videos that were widely circulated on media Social Media.
Lucia Valles, a coach of a ski club in Madrid who usually has to travel to distant mountains with her clients, was thrilled to see layers of snow-white piling up literally on her doorstep.
«I never imagined this, it was a gift,» said the 23-year-old. «But I didn’t take so many pictures of me,» she added, going past the late 18th century building that houses the Prado Museum.
Author Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain contributed to this report.