The chaos caused on some roads by the first snowfall of the year, with around 3,000 cars trapped since Saturday and families stranded for up to 18 hours without help, as well as a lack of shelters or places to spend the coldest hours of the night with some form of warmth or food, have painted a picture of scant public capacity in the fact of an emergency as predictable as snowfall in January.
The operator of the AP-6 toll road that links Madrid with A Coruña blamed a large number of drivers for not using the necessary equipment, and the head of the General Directorate of Traffic, Gregorio Serrano, denied any form of public responsibility by claiming that the agency had been insistently warning about the forecast snow storm and that drivers “either did not know about [the snow] or did not take the necessary precautions.” This reaction is weak and insufficient in the extreme.
Once a disaster situation is underway, the government must be capable of helping people with concrete information, food, blankets and access to improvised refuges
The state has numerous resources when it comes to dealing with emergency situations like that seen this weekend: these range from rolling out tow trucks, snowplows and salt trucks on the roads to closing road sections where circulation is made impossible by snow and by vehicles blocking the way. And once a disaster situation is underway, the government must also be capable of helping people with concrete information, food, blankets and access to improvised refuges. None of this – or only a very limited amount – occurred on the night of Saturday to Sunday, as can be seen by the anguished testimonies of abandonment from the people stranded on the road.
The public works and interior ministries must explain in detail why access points to the AP-6 road were not closed, why victims were not helped and why the snowplows and salt trucks did not work on time. A modern state must distinguish itself by avoiding or alleviating emergency situations as basic as those caused by weather conditions and, in cases when they do happen, it must lessen their impact. None of those things occurred.
English version by George Mills.