MADRID (AP) – A continuous blizzard has covered large parts of Spain with a 50-year record-breaking amount of snow, killing at least four people and trapping thousands in cars or at train stations and airports. On Saturday.
The bodies of a man and a woman were recovered by the Andalusian Regional Emergency Service after their car was washed away by a flooded river near the town of Fungirola. A 54-year-old man has died under heavy snow in Madrid, the interior ministry has said. A homeless man has died of hypothermia in the northern city of Zaragoza, local police say.
More than half of Spain’s provinces were on alert Saturday afternoon, with five warnings, according to Hurricane Plomina. In the capital, for the first time since the system was adopted four decades ago, authorities have implemented a red alert and called on the military to rescue people from trapped vehicles on all roads, from small roads to major thoroughfares.
More than 50 centimeters (20 inches) of snow fell in the capital. At 7 a.m. on Saturday, the AEMET National Weather Service recorded the first 24-hour snowfall in Madrid since 1971.
Sandra Morena, who was trapped late Friday while traveling for her night shift as a security guard at a shopping center, arrived home as a herdsman after being assisted by an Army emergency unit on Saturday morning.
“It takes me 15 minutes, but this time 12 hours without freezing, food or water, crying with others because we don’t know how we’re going to get out of there,” Morena, 22, said.
“The snow is so beautiful, but spending the night stuck in a car is not fun,” he added.
AEMET had warned that some regions would receive more than 24 hours of continuous snowfall due to the odd mix of cold air masses stagnant on the Iberian Peninsula and the arrival of hot storm Plomina from the south.
The storm is expected to move northeast throughout Saturday, but a cold is expected to follow.
Transport Minister Jose Luis Apollos warned, “The snow is going to turn to ice. We are entering a more dangerous situation than we have at the moment.”
He said the priority was to help those in need, but also to ensure a supply chain for food and other basic necessities.
“The storm exceeded the most pessimistic predictions we had,” Palos added.
Carlos Novillo, head of the Madrid Emergency Company, said more than 1,000 vehicles were stranded, mostly on the city’s ring road and the main motorway leading south of the capital to the Castilla La Manza and parts of Andalusia.
“The situation is very dangerous. This is a very complex event and an important situation,” Novillo said in a statement on social media on Saturday morning.
“We ask all those who are trapped to be patient and we will come to you,” he said.
Airport operator AENA, Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas International Airport, is the main gateway inside and outside the country, with the best machinery and workers closing all day after the blizzard tried to keep the runway clear from the snow.
Railway operator Renfe said all trains inside and outside Madrid, passenger routes and long-distance passenger trains, as well as rail lines between the south and northeast of the country have been suspended.
By Saturday morning, Spanish transport officials said the storm had caused severe disruption or closed more than 650 roads, urging people to stay indoors and avoid all essential travel.
Winter weather even halted the country’s football league, with some of La Liga’s best teams unable to travel to the games. Saturday’s match between Spanish league leader Atletico Madrid and athlete Bilbao was postponed as the plane carrying Bilbao’s team returned to the capital unable to land.
The Castilla La Mancha and Madrid areas, home to a total of 8.6 million people, announced that schools would be closed at least on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Although many branches and entire trees were uprooted by the weight of the snow, the blizzard delighted many Matrilinos, including a few brave skiers and widely seen on social media videos including a man on a dog ride.
Lucia Wallace, coach of the Madrid-based Sky Club, was delighted to see white layers of snow piled up on her doorstep, which she usually travels with her clients to distant mountains.
“I never imagined this, it was a gift,” the 23-year-old said. When he passed the building that houses the Prado Museum in the late 18th century, he said, “But I have not taken many photographs.”
Joseph Wilson, an AP writer based in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.