MADRID (AP) — Spain was on high alert Friday as a cold snap covered much of the country with record levels of snow that is disrupting road, rail, sea and air traffic, while authorities warned that worse might be in store over the weekend.
The national AEMET weather agency had forecasted that the Spanish capital and other parts of the country’s central regions would receive more than 24 hours of continuous snowfall as Storm Filomena moved north from the Straits of Gibraltar.
The light snow that began falling Thursday in some areas led by the end of Friday to serious disruptions on nearly 400 roads according to Spain’s transit authorities, which urged people to stay indoors and avoid all non-essential travel.
The capital, Madrid, was enduring what the city’s mayor described as “the worst storm in 80 years,” prompting the closure of the city’s main park and restrictions on the suburban belts of highways.
All incoming and outgoing flights were halted at Madrid’s international airport, leaving hundreds of passengers at terminals or already inside aircraft waiting for the weather to clear up.
“For security, operations at the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport have been halted until visibility improves,” Spain’s airport operator AENA said in a tweet late Friday, adding that workers were frantically trying to clear taking off and landing tracks.
Railway service between Madrid and the eastern parts of the country was suspended until at least mid-Saturday, with many commuter lines suffering delays or cancelations.
In the southern Canarias archipelago, where rainfall and strong winds have paired with unusually rough seas with giant waves, emergency services rescued 65 people Friday from a ferry that ran aground the night before while trying to approach a dock in the Gran Canaria island.
The rescued — passengers including a baby and six crew members who had to wait for 14 hours on the vessel due to the difficulty of the operation to bring them to shore — were “exhausted but safe and healthy,” according to a tweet by the island’s government.
In Toledo, a historic city of 85,000 south of Madrid and capital of the central Castilla La Mancha region, authorities have called for help from the army to clear roads, and prohibited all circulation of vehicles without winter tires or chains.
The wintry weather also threatened to interfere with soccer games involving the top teams in La Liga. Athletic Bilbao said its flight to the capital to play at league leader Atlético Madrid had to return to the Bilbao airport following the closure of Madrid’s airport. Real Madrid, which is second in the rankings, is also due to travel by plane for its match at Osasuna on Saturday night.
But the storm also left rare scenes of a white blanket in many parts that usually see no or little snow, so much that many people braved the cold to play or take selfies and other snapshots that were filling social media.
AEMET says up to 20 centimeters (nearly 8 inches) of snow could accumulate in large parts of Spain and the build-up could reach up to 50 centimeters in mountainous areas. The storm is expected to weaken and move northeast by Sunday, the agency said.
Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.
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