Storm Filomena paralyzes Madrid, leaving the Spanish capital immobilized and in a critical condition

The unexpectedly heavy snowfall has blocked roads, left the emergency services unable to circulate and has caused dangerous situations due to falling branches

Fallen trees in Madrid on Saturday.
Fallen trees in Madrid on Saturday.Víctor Lerena (EFE)

Madrid awoke on Saturday in a critical condition. Chaos was reigning, and it was every man for themselves. The Spanish capital and the region had been left completely paralyzed by the snow. María, in San Blas, was in labor in her home and unable to get help – ambulances could not move, despite having snow chains, given the depth of the snowfall. She turned to the fire service, which is calling for volunteers given the difficulties personnel are having in reaching their fire houses. But there were more problems: “There aren’t any chains and the tires that are supposed to work with snow aren’t working,” one fireman reported. The result was the sight of fire engine being pushed by passers-by to get it going. Another, stuck in front of the city’s Puerta de Toledo traffic circle. “We’re going to incidents in vans,” they reported.

There were no vehicles circulating in the city on Saturday. Only the Metro was moving people around, but not all the lines were working. In La Latina, one man emerged from the station exit with a pair of skis, clipping them on and setting off gliding across the slow. The scene was a dangerous one too: many streets were strewn with branches from trees that had split and fallen under the weight of the snow.

The hospitals found themselves completely overwhelmed. On Friday night, in La Paz hospital, they used the gym as a place to sleep for the health workers who were unable to get home. By Saturday morning, those who had managed to get to their houses were unable to return to work. Wards and departments were left without staff, and calls were made to volunteers to come and cover the absences. By mid-morning Saturday, it was impossible to get a picture of how operational the hospitals were.

No one appeared to have anticipated this disastrous situation, despite it having been forecast and the city and the region being on a red weather alert. The alert, the highest of the country’s warning system, appears to have served for nothing, given that fire services, hospitals, police and other essential services did not plan their staffing ahead of the impending weather event. Madrid was left a city without governance – of any kind.

Stranded buses in Madrid
Stranded buses in MadridPeio H. Riaño

The Madrid mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida of the conservative Popular Party (PP), called on the central Defense Minister Margarita Robles to send the army to help clear the snow from the streets. “The situation in Madrid is very serious,” Robles said during an interview on the Onda Madrid radio network. “In terms of mobility, the city is practically immobilized.”

The mayor predicted that work to clear the city would take several days after the expected 20 centimeters of snow ended up being much more. “I can’t give an exact time frame at the moment because it’s going to carry on snowing,” he warned.

The snow plows were insufficient to clear the major arteries of the Spanish capital, and around midday they were still blocked, meaning that ambulances and fire crews were unable to move around the city. City Hall counts on 66 snow plows, and the region 57.

The coronavirus vaccinations that were scheduled for today have been put on hold by the regional government. The regional premier of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, also of the PP, announced on Saturday that schools and universities would not open on Monday or Tuesday. Classes are due to restart after the Christmas holidays on Wednesday.

All of the authorities in Madrid have recommended that citizens do not leave their homes under any circumstances, advice that many ignored in order to go outside and take photographs.

English version by Simon Hunter.


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