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 before a cold snap transforms them into icy death traps.

Storm Filomena killed three people as it swept through Spain and kept emergency services workers and army snowploughs busy on Friday and Saturday, freeing 2,500 drivers trapped in their vehicles.

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

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

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska warned Sunday that the piles of snow could turn to ice because of the expected low temperatures.

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

Snowploughs and grit spreaders were out on the streets of the capital Madrid on Sunday where the city's mayor, Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, said not a minute could 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."

In the Madrid suburb of Majadahonda, around 90 people have been snowed in at a shopping centre since Friday, regional emergency services said.

- Volunteers help soldiers in Madrid -

The Madrid region was among the worst hit by the storm, with levels of snowfall not seen since 1971.

The army also had to clear the snow from Madrid airport, where flights have been cancelled since late Friday, resuming only gradually on Sunday afternoon.

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 bakeries 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 (inches) of snow, 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 the regions of Aragon, Valencia, Castilla La Mancha and Catalonia hard on Saturday.