Ten provinces of central Spain were on their highest level of alert for Storm Filomena, including the capital, Madrid, where authorities have activated the red warning for the first time.

A man walks down a snow-blanketed street amid heavy snowfall in Madrid on January 9, 2021.
A man walks down a snow-blanketed street amid heavy snowfall in Madrid on January 9, 2021. (AFP)

At least four people have died in Spain and troops have rescued drivers trapped by snow as Storm Filomena continues to cause travel chaos across the country, with Madrid seeing the heaviest snowfall in decades.

The airport in Madrid was closed and skiers glided down Gran Via on Saturday, normally one of the busiest streets in the capital.

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 54-year-old 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 department reported.

"Let's avoid travel and follow the instructions of the emergency services," tweeted Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. "Let's be extremely careful in the face of the storm #Filomena."

Biggest snowfall in Madrid since 1971

Aena, which controls the country's airports, said Madrid's Barajas airport, which closed on Friday night, would remain closed for the rest of Saturday. It said at least 50 flights to Madrid, Malaga, Tenerife and Ceuta, a Spanish territory in North Africa, were cancelled, according to Aena.

The State Metereological Agency said it was the biggest snowfall in Madrid since 1971, while Jose Miguel Vinas, a meteorologist from Spanish National Radio, said that between 25 cm and 50 cm fell in Madrid, making it the largest snowfall since 1963.

Soldiers worked to reach drivers stranded for hours on roads around Madrid. "We continue the rescue of vehicles on the A4, A5, M40 and M607," tweeted the Unit for Military Emergencies.

1,000 vehicles rescued

Patricia Manzanares, who was trapped in her car on the M-40 motorway in Madrid since 1800GMT on Friday, told RTVE  television: "I have been stuck here without water or any other help."

The head of the Madrid region's emergency service, Carlos Novillo, appealed for people not to go out in their cars.

"We have worked intensely. We have rescued 1,000 vehicles. We ask for patience, we will reach you all," he said.

Game cancelled, schools closed

The wintry weather even halted the country's football league, with some of the La Liga top teams unable to travel for games. Saturday’s match between Spanish league leader Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao was postponed after the plane carrying Bilbao’s team on Friday was unable to land in the capital and had to turn around.

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.

The snow converted Madrid's famous Puerta del Sol into a winter sports venue, as skiers and even a man on a sled drawn by five dogs – took to the normally busy thorough fare.

Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao was called off due to weather conditions on January 9, 2020.
Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao was called off due to weather conditions on January 9, 2020. (Reuters)

Many other regions hit

Apart from Madrid, the regions of Aragon, Valencia, Castilla La Mancha and Catalonia were the worst-hit by the snowstorms.

The historic city of Toledo asked the army for help clearing the streets, as did Albacete in the southeast, public television reported.

Forecasters said the heavy snow would continue until Sunday, before Storm Filomena begins moving northeast, although temperatures would remain exceptionally low.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies