Drivers in Madrid had to be rescued from their cars today after unprecedented heavy snowfall caused by Storm Filomena wreaked havoc across Spain, leaving thousands of drivers stranded.
The M-30 and M-40 motorways near the Spanish capital were among 400 roads on which traffic was affected by the heavy snowfall.
The death toll as a result of Storm Filomena has risen to four people so far due to the extreme weather conditions.
Madrid city council called on citizens to stay at home and avoid non-essential travel as a result of the unusual blizzard.
Ten regions, including the Spanish capital, were placed on red alert earlier today, with more heavy snowfalls predicted.
Speaking to Spanish television RNE from her car, one woman said: ‘I drove to see my husband in hospital and have been stuck here for three hours. It’s a journey which should take 15 minutes.’
The Spanish Unit for Military Emergencies, which deployed 147 soldiers to help stranded drivers, tweeted to say: ‘We continue the rescue of vehicles on the A4, A5, M40 and M607.’
Emergency services said around 1,000 trapped motorists had been reached by the early hours of this morning.
Carlos Novillo, director of Madrid Emergencies, described the situation as critical but added: ‘We’re still working on reaching cars trapped on the M40 and M506 motorways.
‘We’re going to reach everyone and help them get to safety.’
Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos added: ‘We are in the grip of a historic storm and obviously it’s had a huge knock-on effect on transport.’
On the A4 in Madrid, the Red Cross set out to deliver food packages to lorry drivers who were also trapped in their vehicles because of the snow.
So far Storm Filomena has claimed the lives of four people, with a 54-year-old man having been found dead lifeless inside his car after it was buried in snow in Zarzalejo north-west of the Spanish capital.
Unconfirmed local reports said he could have suffered a heart attack and been unable to raise help.
The second fatality was a homeless man in the Madrid neighbourhood of Carabanchel believed to have died from hypothermia.
News of the two deaths were confirmed as police said the couple who drowned in Mijas were a 56-year-old Colombian woman and a 46-year-old Spanish man.
Another couple in the vehicle with them, which was by the Fuengirola River when it was swept away just before midnight last night/on Friday after a day of torrential rain, managed to save their lives.
Footage emerged today/yesterday (SAT) of the Spanish man being swept away after an unsuccessful attempt by Good Samaritans and emergency responders to throw him a ring buoy with a rope attached to it.
As the man appeared in the footage and began to be swept downriver while he waved his arms in the air and onlookers threw the ring buoy to him to try to grab, she added: ‘Here he goes, this is horrible, this is horrible. Get it, get the police.’
The unnamed Colombian woman’s body was found inside the black Citroen the four occupants had been travelling in.
A Civil Guard spokesman confirmed: ‘The man’s body was found about 300 metres from the vehicle by expert police divers around 10.20 am this morning/yesterday morning.’
Meteorologists had predicted Friday’s snowfall to reach around 20cm with temperatures hovering around freezing.
Madrid’s mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almedia has predicted that the Spanish capital would not be back to normal until the end of next week.
He also confirmed that the snowfall in Madrid was the heaviest since at least 1971.
Madrid also closed Barajas Airport on Friday night as a result of the chaotic weather which made flying impossible.
At least 50 flights to Madrid, Malaga, Tenerife and Cueta were cancelled as a result of the airport shutdown.
Aena, who controls all of Spain’s airports, tweeted: ‘Owing to the forecast of snow and for security, Madrid Barajas airport will remain closed throughout Saturday’.
The airport’s closure came after the Real Madrid team were left trapped on a runway for four hours last night before being given a go-ahead to take off.
Madrid city council said that in addition to Madrid’s airport closure, all high-speed rail services between the capital and the southeastern cities of Alicante and Valencia had been suspended.
A record temperature of -35.6 degrees C was recorded at Vega de Lourdes in Leon, northern Spain, the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet) said.
Bus services within Madrid have also been halted for now and schools and universities in the city will be closed on Monday and Tuesday due to an expected cold-snap which will see temperatures plummet to -10 degrees C.
Despite the chaos for drivers, some people in the Spanish capital took the rare opportunity to enjoy the snowfall.
Skiers were seen gliding through the Puerta del Sol plaza in central Madrid, while one man was spotted making his way through the capital with his sled dogs.
Car salesman Javier Talanco took his five huskies out for a spin in surreal scenes after historic snowfall left the city looking more like Reykjavik.
Javier, who practices the dog-powered sport of mushing but normally in the mountains, treated the children of neighbors to rides on his sled after the heaviest snowfall in Madrid in at least 50 years.
He said afterward: ‘They have snow in their blood and as soon as they saw it out of the window, they started getting nervous and wouldn’t stop playing.’