Emergency crews in central Spain have cleared 500 roads and rescued more than 1,500 people stranded in vehicles as the country slowly shovels its way out of its worst snowstorm in recent memory.
After recording 20 inches of snow in the Spanish capital between Friday night and Saturday, Madrid and a large swathe of the country remained impassable, with roads, rail lines and air travel disrupted by Storm Filomena. The blizzard has been blamed for four deaths.
Transport minister Jose Luis Abalos said by Sunday crews had cleared two runways at Madrid’s Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas International Airport and that departures had restarted. He said arrivals would slowly begin again sometime soon, weather permitting.
Trains traversing the capital gradually restarted on Sunday afternoon, but Mr Abalos said the important high-speed line linking Madrid with Barcelona remained out of operation.
More than 150 roads were still impassable on Sunday. Authorities said all trips by car should be postponed and tyre chains were obligatory for journeys that could not be avoided. They said all people trapped in their cars by the snow had been rescued but hundreds of cars needed to be recovered after being abandoned by drivers.
The biggest snowfall since the 1980s in Madrid, according to mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, produced some unusual scenes with some residents using skies to mush through the snow-covered streets.
Storm Filomena has lost strength as it moved eastwards but authorities are still urging people to remain at home to limit the risk of falls on icy streets as a cold front moves in.
“The danger is not over,” said interior minister Fernando Grande-Markaska. “A week of extreme cold is coming and that will transform all the snow on the ground into ice, thereby multiplying the risk. The storm is bringing with it a cold wave that could push temperatures down to record levels.”
Spain’s weather service forecasts temperatures to drop as low as minus 14C (6F) in the eastern province of Albacete by Tuesday.
The sparsely populated province of Teruel remained under red alert for intense snowfall, while large areas of eastern Aragon and Catalonia also were under alert with wintry weather.
Army emergency brigades have focused on clearing access to Madrid’s main fresh food distribution centre and to hospitals, as Spain also grappled with its coronavirus crisis, with infections on the rise following the Christmas holidays.
Mr Grande-Marlaska said the government will take extra steps to ensure that the country’s weekly shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Monday can be distributed to regional health authorities via police-escorted convoys.
Spain has seen more than 51,800 confirmed virus deaths in the pandemic.