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Madrid paralysed after heavy snowfall

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A woman walks by Puerta de Alcala after a heavy snowfall in Madrid on January 11, 2021. – Schools, courts and museums were closed throughout central Spain for two days after the region was hit with a massive snowstorm. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Schools, courts and museums were closed throughout Madrid on Monday, two days after central Spain was hit by a massive snowstorm.

Officials have asked people to stay at home if possible after Storm Filomena dumped between 20-30 centimetres (7-8 inches) of snow on Madrid on Saturday, the heaviest snowfall since 1971.

The storm killed at least three people as it swept through Spain and kept emergency services workers and army snowploughs busy, freeing 2,500 drivers trapped in their vehicles.

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Lacking enough salt and snowploughs, officials had as on Monday only managed to clear main roads of snow and fallen tree branches, with most pavements, smaller roads and residential areas still covered.

The authorities are worried about the prospect of snow turning to ice, with temperatures expected to fall to up to minus 11 Celsius (12 Fahrenheit) on Monday and minus 13 (9 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday.

Vaccine distribution ‘guaranteed’
The government has insisted the travel chaos will not affect the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, with 350,000 doses due to be rolled out nationwide on Monday.

“The delays — if there are delays — will be minimal and slight,” Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told Spanish public radio. The distribution of the jabs to all regions was “guaranteed”, he added.

At Madrid airport, which had been closed most of the weekend, the first flights resumed late on Sunday after the army cleared snow from the runways.

Throughout the weekend, people had been responding to calls to help clear vital paths in their neighbourhoods to allow access to hospitals and neighbourhood health centres.

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Most residents heeded the government’s call to stay at home on Monday, with the capital’s streets all but deserted and quiet, except for the sound of shovels scraping snow and ice.

The few people who ventured out walked slowly, some using canes or sticks to support themselves and prevent themselves from slipping and falling.

In Madrid’s Prosperidad neighbourhood the playground remained covered in snow and fallen pine branches.

“People are not going out, especially older people,” said Javier Bermejo, a butcher in the local market who said he only expected to get more produce on Tuesday. “It’s a day to stay home.”

The deserted streets contrasted with the scenes on Saturday when residents of the Spanish capital ignored appeals that they stay home and flooded the streets to make snowmen, have snowball fights — and even ski.

Travel woes
The Madrid region, among the worst-hit areas, announced all schools, libraries and cultural institutions would be closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Courts would also remain closed until Wednesday, officials said.

The regional government of Madrid has distributed 277 tonnes of salt to the area’s municipalities to prevent the formation of ice.

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It is expected to receive another 3,500 tonnes of salt in the coming days from eastern Spain.

A total of 138 roads across Spain remained closed on Monday and nearly 700 were affected by the storm, meaning some form of restrictions on their use were still in place, said the interior ministry.

The government made repeated appeals to people to stay home to allow goods to be delivered to hospitals and shops.

For a second day running, the Madrid metro operated around the clock so essential workers could get to their jobs. Four stations were providing shelter, food and blankets to the homeless.

While rail services to and from Madrid were gradually being re-established, key routes — such as the link to second-city Barcelona — were still not operating.

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