An unusual and persistent blizzard has blanketed large parts of Spain with snow, freezing traffic and leaving thousands trapped in cars or in railway stations and airports which suspended services as the snow kept falling on Saturday.
Madrid and other parts of central Spain for the first time activated a red weather alert and called in the military to rescue people from vehicles trapped on everything from small roads to the capital’s major thoroughfares.
The national AEMET weather agency had warned that some regions would have more than 24 hours of continuous snowfall due to the odd combination of a cold air mass stagnant over the Iberian Peninsula and the arrival of the warmer Storm Filomena from the south.
AEMET had said that up to 20cm of snow could accumulate in large parts of the country but the build-up reached more than 50cm even in urban areas. The storm is expected to move north east throughout Saturday, the agency said.
Carlos Novillo, head of the Madrid emergency agency, said more than 1,000 vehicles had become trapped, mostly on the city’s ring road and the main motorway that leads from the capital to the south, toward the Castilla La Mancha and Andalucia regions.
“The situation remains of high risk. This is a very complex phenomenon and a critical situation,” Mr Novillo said on Saturday morning.
“We ask all those who remain trapped to be patient, we will get to you,” he added.
Airport operator AENA said Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas International Airport, the main gateway in and out of the country, would remain closed throughout the day.
All trains in and out of Madrid and routes between the south and the north east of the country were suspended, railway operator Renfe said.
The storm caused serious disruption on or had closed more than 430 roads by Saturday morning, according to Spain’s transit authorities, which urged people to stay indoors and avoid all non-essential travel.
The wintry weather even halted the country’s football league, with some La Liga teams unable to travel for games.
A flight to Madrid carrying players with league leaders Athletic Bilbao had to return to Bilbao airport, while second-placed Real Madrid were unable to take off for their match against Osasuna.