San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday)
Blizzard buries nation as troops deploy to assist
MADRID — A blizzard blanketed large parts of Spain with 50year record levels of snow, killing at least four people and leaving thousands trapped in cars or in train stations and airports Saturday that had suspended services as the snow kept falling.
The bodies of a man and woman were recovered by the Andalucia region emergency service after their car was washed away by a flooded river near the town of Fuengirola. The Interior Ministry said a 54yearold man was also found dead in Madrid under a big pile of snow. A homeless man died of hypothermia in the northern city of Zaragoza, the local police said.
More than half of Spain’s provinces remained on alert Saturday, five of them on their highest level of warning, for Storm Filomena. In the capital, authorities activated the red alert for the first time since the system was adopted four decades ago and called in the military to rescue people from vehicles trapped on everything from small roads to the city’s major thoroughfares.
More than 20 inches of snow fell in the capital. By 7 a. m. on Saturday, the AEMET national weather agency had recorded the highest 24hour snowfall seen since 1971 in Madrid. AEMET had warned that some regions would be receiving 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.
Transport Minster Jose Luis Abalos warned that “snow is going to turn into ice and we will enter a situation perhaps more dangerous than what we have at the moment.”
He added that the priority was to assist those in need but also to ensure the supply chain for food and other basic goods.
“The storm has exceeded the most pessimistic forecasts we had,” Abalos added.
Airport operator AENA said that the Adolfo Suarez MadridBarajas International Airport, the main gateway in and out of the country, would remain closed throughout the day after the blizzard bested machines and workers trying to keep the runways clear of snow.
All trains into and out of Madrid, both commuter routes and longdistance passenger trains, as well as railway lines between the south and the northeast of the country, were suspended, railway operator Renfe said.
The regions of Castilla La Mancha and Madrid, home to 8.6 million people altogether, announced that schools would be closed at least on Monday and Tuesday.