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Powerful snowstorm causes chaos in Spain

January 9, 2021

Rare winter storm Filomena claimed several lives in Spain, burying large parts of the country under the biggest winter snowfall in a generation.

A man takes pictures while walking his dog amid a heavy snowfall in Madrid
Streets were blocked in Madrid and other Spanish citiesImage: Benjamin Cremel/AFP/Getty Images

Five regions in Spain were put on red alert on Saturday, as winter storm Filomena caused chaos across the country.

The country's capital Madrid was particularly affected, prompting the closure of Barajas airport and leaving hundreds of motorists stranded on roads. 

Spain's AEMET weather agency described the weather emergency as "exceptional and most likely historic." Filomena has so far caused the heaviest snowfalls in Madrid since 1971. 

A man skis in Cibeles square amid a heavy snowfall in Madrid
The heavy snowfall allowed Madrid residents to ski across the historic Cibeles square in MadridImage: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said that by Saturday evening, emergency services and army snow ploughs had freed all 2,500 drivers stuck on the country’s roads.

Late on Saturday, the snowfall began moving off towards the northeast from central Spain after unleashing chaos in the region for almost 36 hours.

"Even if, despite the extremely difficult weather conditions, the number of incidents is relatively limited, we have three deaths to mourn," Grande-Marlaska told the media.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez took to Twitter, urging people to stay indoors and follow the instructions of the emergency services. 

The Spanish king and queen also expressed "pain" and "concern" for the citizens.

Spanish firefighters help dig cars out of the snow in the capital Madrid
The heavy snow caught many Madrid motorists off-guardImage: Oscar Del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images

More than a dozen regions affected 

Several lives have been lost to the powerful storm. A couple died after they were trapped in their car when a river burst its banks near Malaga, southern Spain, while two homeless people froze to death, one in the eastern city of Calatayud and the other in Madrid, authorities said.

Police from the capital shared pictures of a precinct where the roof had caved in under the weight of the snow, adding: "Fortunately colleagues and relatives are OK."

The President of the region of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, announced that schools and universities would be closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Nine regions in the country have been put under the highest level of alert, including Castilla-La Mancha, Catalonia, Valencia and Aragon. Some 20 centimeters of snow is expected to be dumped on these regions on Saturday. 

Two people walking their dog through snow-covered streets in Madrid.
Residents across central Spain took strolls and snapped photos of the unsual blizzardImage: Andrea Comas/AP Photo/picture alliance

Nineteen other provinces are also under winter weather warning. A total of 36 of Spain's 50 provinces will be affected in some way or another by Filomena. 

In Toledo, a historic city of 85,000 south of Madrid and capital of the central Castilla La Mancha region, authorities had to seek help from the army to clear roads. 

A man kneeling on a stack of tables to escape the water as a large wave approaches
Southern provinces like Malaga have also felt the force of the winter stormImage: Álex Zea/dpa/Europa Press/picture alliance

A record low temperature of -35.6 degrees Celsius (-32 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded at Vega de Lourdes in Leon, northern Spain, AEMET said. 

Meanwhile, in the southern Canary Islands, rainfall and strong winds have paired with unusually rough seas with giant waves, leading emergency services to rescue 65 people from a ferry that ran aground while trying to approach a dock in the Gran Canaria island. 

jcg/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)