Four were killed in the Spanish storm, and troops deployed to help motorists stranded by snow

MADRID (Reuters) – Four people have died in Spain after storm Filomena disrupted travel across the country, blanketing Madrid in the heaviest snow in decades and forcing authorities to mobilize forces to rescue trapped motorists.

Rescue services reached 1,500 people trapped in cars, while skiers descended on Gran Via Street, usually one of the busiest streets in the capital. Other Madrid residents used the strange blizzard to snowboard on the road or pelted each other with snowballs.

Authorities said that a man and a woman in a car drowned after a river overflowed its banks near Malaga, southern Spain, and two homeless people froze to death, one in Madrid and the other in the eastern city of Calatayud.

In response to the events, King Philip VI and Queen Letizia tweeted: „The royal family wishes to express its grief for the victims of the storm … and requests extreme caution against the dangers of the accumulation of ice and snow.“

Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska urged Spaniards to avoid all but essential travel. He said, „We are facing the most violent storm in the past 50 years.“

Snow closed more than 650 routes, Grandi Marlaska said, leaving some drivers stuck in their cars from Friday night through Saturday.

„I got stuck here without water or any other help,“ Patricia Manzanares, who has been trapped in her car on Madrid’s M-40 highway since 7 pm on Friday, told RTVE.

Aena, which controls the country’s airports, said Madrid’s Barajas airport, which closed on Friday night, will remain closed until the end of Saturday. It said at least 50 flights to Madrid, Malaga, Tenerife and Ceuta, a Spanish region in North Africa, have been canceled.

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The state meteorological agency said this was the largest snowfall in Madrid since 1971, while Jose Miguel Fenias, a meteorologist from Spanish National Radio, said that between 25 cm and 50 cm (10-20 inches) had fallen in the capital, Which he said made it the largest snowfall since 1963.

The Spanish league said in a statement that the Atletico Madrid match against Athletic Bilbao, set to start at 1515 GMT on Saturday, has been postponed.

(Graham Kelly Report) Editing by Francis Kerry and David Holmes

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