Spain sees record levels of snow brought in by Storm Filomena

People walk crossing the Plaza Mayor during a heavy snowfall in Madrid, Spain. Credit: AP

Spain has seen record levels of snowfall not seen in half a century, as Storm Filomena sparked travel chaos throughout the country.

Thousands of cars remain stuck on roads while airports and train stations have cancelled services due to the adverse weather conditions.

The military has been called in to rescue people from vehicles trapped on everything from small roads to the city's major thoroughfares.

A man and a woman have died after their car was washed away by floods near the town of Fuengirola in southern Spain.

People put snow-chains on a car wheels during heavy snowfall in Rivas Vaciamadrid, Spain Credit: Ap

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

More than 20 inches of snow fell in the capital. By 7am on Saturday, the AEMET national weather agency had recorded the highest 24-hour snowfall seen since 1971 in Madrid.

Sandra Morena, who became trapped late on Friday as she commuted to her night shift as a security guard in a shopping center, arrived home, on foot, after an army emergency unit helped her out on Saturday morning.

“It usually takes me 15 minutes but this time it has been 12 hours freezing, without food or water, crying with other people because we didn't know how were we going to get out of there,” said Morena, 22.

Blustery and snowy conditions have meant large parts of Spain have been brought to a standstill by the weather. Credit: AP

“Snow can be very beautiful but spending the night trapped in a car because of it is no fun,” she added.

AEMET had warned that some regions would be receiving more than 24 hours of continuous snowfall due to the odd combination of a cold air mass stagnant over the Iberian Peninsula and the arrival of the warmer Storm Filomena from the south.

The storm is expected to move northeast throughout Saturday, the agency said.

Carlos Novillo, head of the Madrid emergency agency, said that more than 1,000 vehicles had become trapped, mostly on the city's ring road and the main motorway that leads from the capital to the south, toward the Castilla La Mancha and Andalucia regions.

People walk during a heavy snowfall in Rivas Vaciamadrid, Spain. Credit: AP

“The situation remains of high risk. This is a very complex phenomenon and a critical situation," Novillo said Saturday morning in a message posted on social media.

“We ask all those who remain trapped to be patient, we will get to you," he added.

Airport operator AENA said that the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas International Airport, the main gateway in and out of the country, would remain closed throughout the day after the blizzard bested machines and workers trying to keep the runways clear of snow.

All trains into and out of Madrid, both commuter routes and long-distance passenger trains, as well as railway lines between the south and the northeast of the country, were suspended, railway operator Renfe said.

People walk during a heavy snowfall in Rivas Vaciamadrid, Spain. Credit: AP

The storm had caused serious disruptions or closed altogether over 430 roads by Saturday morning, according to Spain’s transit authorities, which urged people to stay indoors and avoid all non-essential travel.

The wintry weather even halted the country's soccer league, with some of the La Liga top teams unable to travel for games. Saturday’s match between Spanish league leader Atlético 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.

A view shows the landscape covered with snow in Rivas, Spain. Credit: AP

The blizzard also yielded unusual images for many Madrileños, including a few brave people heading out with their ski gear on the Spanish capital’s main commercial avenue and in the central Puerta del Sol square, and even a dog sled that was seen on videos widely circulated on social media.

Lucía Vallés, a coach for a Madrid-based ski club who usually has to travel to faraway mountains with her clients, was thrilled to see the white layers of snow accumulating literally at her doorstep.

“I never imagined this, it has been a gift," the 23-year-old said. “But I've never had so many photographs taken of me," she added as she slid past the late 18th-century building that hosts the Prado Museum.