Heavy snowfall blankets much of Spain in white

Madrid (AFP) –

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Heavy snow fell across much of Spain on Friday, leaving huge areas blanketed in white as Storm Filomena brought wintry weather not seen in decades to the Iberian peninsula.

With more than half of the country on high alert for snow on Friday and Saturday, the AEMET weather agency described the situation as "exceptional and most likely historic".

In Madrid, children could be seen hurling snowballs or playing under snow-covered palm trees, while others snapped photos of the rare whiteout which began in earnest the day after Spain celebrated King's Day -- or Epiphany.

The snow was heaviest in the Madrid area, Castilla La Mancha and the Valencia region, disrupting traffic on hundreds of roads.

AEMET said another 20 centimetres of snow was expected in Madrid, the high central plains and the nearby mountain ranges, which could rise to 50 centimetres in higher areas.

The transport authority said the snow had disrupted traffic on 336 main roads, where in many cases lorries and heavy goods vehicles were unable to pass, and Spain's public television said the main roads into Madrid were now inaccessible by truck.

Trains were also suspended on the line between Madrid and the eastern coastal city of Valencia, the Renfe rail network said.

With many areas struggling to cope with the heavy snowfall, the historic city of Toledo asked the army for help clearing the streets as did Albacete in the southeast, public television said.

Forecasters said the heavy snow would continue until Sunday after which it would subside gradually as Storm Filomena begins moving northeast, although the temperatures would remain exceptionally low.

Before the snowfall began on Thursday morning, temperatures had already plummeted, reaching an unofficial record low of -34.1 degrees Celcius was recorded at a ski station in the central Pyrenees on Wednesday morning.

Storm Filomena has also brought intense rain and high winds to the Canary Islands as well as the southern coast of the peninsula, AEMET said.