Spain races to clear snow before cold snap freezes roads

Madrid (AFP) –


After the worst snowstorm in decades, Spanish officials were racing Sunday to clear the roads of snow before a cold snap transforms them into icy death traps.

Storm Filomena killed three people during its passage through Spain and kept emergency services workers and army snow ploughs busy through Saturday freeing 2,500 drivers trapped in their vehicles.

The storm also brought heavy rains before moving through eastern Spain into southern France.

Spain's weather forecasters AEMET predicted heavy frost overnight Sunday to Monday in large parts of Spain. In mountainous areas temperatures would drop below -10 celsius (14 Fahrenheit), conditions that could last until Thursday, the agency added.

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said Sunday that the danger was that the piles of snow could transform into ice because of the unprecedented low temperatures expected.

But despite the conditions, he said, the country's vaccination campaign against the coronavirus would go ahead as scheduled, with 350,000 doses due to be delivered on Monday.

A fleet of snow-ploughs and gritters were out on the streets of Madrid Sunday where the city's mayor, Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, said Sunday there was not a minute to be lost.

"Our aim is to make the most of every minute before Monday when the drop in temperature happens," Martinez-Almeida told Sexta television late Saturday.

"From then, until the end of the week, it’s going to be very difficult to get about."

- Volunteers help soldiers in Madrid -

The capital Madrid and the surrounding region was one of the areas worst hit by the snow, with levels of snowfall not seen since 1971.

The army also had to clear the snow from Madrid airport, one of the regions worst hit by the snowstorm, which had forced the cancellation of flights from late Friday. They are not due to be reopened until Sunday afternoon at the earliest.

Volunteers helped soldiers clear access to the city's hospitals, still struggling to cope with the country's coronavirus crisis.

"We're very aware of the importance of keeping their access clear," said Felix Sanchez, a 52-year-old Madrid resident, as he helped out at the entrance to the Gregorio Maronon hospital.

While some worked, others joined the long queues at bakers and the few supermarkets open to stock up ahead of the big freeze. Others meanwhile, made the most of the conditions, getting about on skis.

The storm, through Friday and Saturday, left the capital and large parts of the country under dozens of centimetres of snow, an amount rarely experienced in Spain, blocking many major roads.

The authorities in the capital have closed the city's schools, colleges and universities at least until Wednesday.

As well as the Madrid region, the exceptional conditions hit another four regions -- Aragon, Valencia, Castilla La Mancha and Catalonia -- hard Saturday.