Four people have died as the worst snowstorms Spain has seen in half a century brought the country to a standstill.
Between 20 and 30cm of snow has fallen in Madrid, the heaviest seen since 1971, allowing people to don their skis and take to the city’s main Gran Via thoroughfare.
Others pelted each other with snowballs as the usually traffic-clogged street shut down due to the storms. Rescue workers had to escort 1,500 people who had become trapped in their cars to safety.
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, Malaga.
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.
‘I want to reiterate the government’s call for maximum caution in the face of the evolution of the weather in the next few hours,’ tweeted Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
Forecasters warned of more havoc next week. Julian Morcillo, of the State Metereological Agency (Aemet), said temperatures would plunge to minus 10C next week, bringing dangerous ice.
More than half of Spain’s provinces remained under severe weather alerts for Storm Filomena on Saturday evening, 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.
The capital’s Barajas airport was shut from Friday night, while nationwide, more than 650 roads were blocked.
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 Sandra, 22.
‘Snow can be very beautiful but spending the night trapped in a car because of it is no fun,’ she added.
Transport Minster 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 added.
Lucia Valles, a coach for a Madrid-based ski club who usually has to travel to faraway mountains with her clients, was thrilled to see the white layers of snow accumulating literally at her doorstep.
‘I never imagined this, it has been a gift,’ the 23-year-old said. ‘But I’ve never had so many photographs taken of me,’ she added as she slid past the late 18th-century building that hosts the Prado Museum.
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