The extreme cold snap that has relieved the fiercest snowstorm so far this century will put half the country to an unprecedented stress test. Extensive night frosts, with lows below 10 degrees below zero, turned the snow that had not been removed into ice and multiplied the risk of collapse.
Barajas airport continued without recovering activity while 116 roads continued to be cut and in 210 the use of chains was mandatory. Madrid suspended classes until Monday. The Government asked the population to stay home. “This is not over,” warned Fernando Grande-Marlaska.
The pandemic is still there and has caused 401 deaths since Friday, but the virulence of the storm Filomena has forced that, at least for the next few days, the priority of the Government and the autonomous communities is not the covid.
The sharp decline in thermometers, with records of 12 degrees below zero in the interior and east of the Peninsula, has momentarily replaced the coronavirus as the main enemy in the short term. Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Madrid and Aragon faced this Tuesday on red alert.
“We are probably facing the coldest morning in recent years,” predicted Rubén Del Campo, spokesman for the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet), which has activated the red alert for this Tuesday – extreme risk – in 11 provinces of Castilla- La Mancha —Albacete, Cuenca, Guadalajara and Toledo—, Community of Madrid, Castilla y León —Ávila, Burgos, Segovia and Soria— and Aragón —Teruel and Zaragoza—.
Up to 41 of the 50 provinces have active cold warnings of varying severity until ten in the morning, including the more temperate territories of the country, such as the Valencian Community, Barcelona, Seville and Murcia.
“It is imperative to maintain all precautionary measures and not be fooled by clear skies. Snow can become a trap for vehicles and citizens ”, was the message that Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska reiterated this Monday.
A meteorological crisis has been added to the health, economic, social, political and institutional crisis that, as they have recognized from ministers to regional presidents, has blown up the most pessimistic scenarios. Keeping critical infrastructures running and guaranteeing the supply of the most essential products has become the new challenge for public managers.
The data is overwhelming: 598 roads were still affected, 116 were still cut off – two of the main network, both in Toledo – and in 210 it was not possible to circulate without chains three days after the storm Filomena secured a hole in the collective memory of a middle power like Spain, the fourth largest economy in the EU and one of the few full democracies on the planet.
One of the few positive news was that late in the afternoon there were no more trucks bagged except for the 638 trucks bound for Madrid which, according to the Government, decided to wait for the storm to subside in Burgos and Cuenca in the areas conditioned and equipped with Civil Protection and Civil Guard equipment. To get an idea of the size of the storm, on Sunday night 7,100 articulated vehicles were waiting their turn to be disbursed.
Expectations were not so good at Barajas airport, the great Spanish air communication center which plays a key role in connections with America. “It is not easy to restart an infrastructure of this size,” acknowledged the Minister of Transport, José Luis Ábalos.
The work of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) in removing the snow contributed to the fact that two of the four airfield runways were clear. Even so, the recovery was still very gradual. If all went well, the Government was confident that at the end of this edition there would be some flights from Terminal 1.
“Our effort is to ensure the supply of basic goods such as food and medicine, to clear access to logistics centers and to recover the traffic of goods”, synthesized Ábalos. Food loading and unloading was resumed in Mercamadrid, the second largest supermarket in the world. The intention was that this Tuesday it could open relatively normally.
The drop in temperatures caused power outages in Madrid and Toledo, but also voltage drops on railway lines 500 kilometers away, as in León or Asturias. Renfe’s remedy was to combine electric units with hybrid trains, fueled by diesel, to prevent convoys from being trapped in hard-to-reach areas.
However, another reason for joy arrived at 2:00 p.m., when the AVE connection between Madrid and Barcelona was reopened: 72 hours later, all the long and medium-distance high-speed lines were operational again.
Advances in the rail network were much more modest in the road network, which is precisely where most of the freight traffic is transported. The ice forced a titanic effort, almost more typical of a dystopian reality. An example: only in the last 24 hours snow has been removed in 12,100 kilometers.
The 1,300 snow plows deployed since the beginning of the crisis were still at full capacity in Aragon, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Catalonia, Valencia, Extremadura, La Rioja and Madrid. This Monday they had already spread 246,000 tons of flux over 30,000 kilometers to try to prevent ice sheets from forming.
The Army also turned to clearing roads and even transferring patients to hospitals in 4×4 ambulances. Of the 1,100 troops deployed, 600 belonged to the UME. The military unit created during the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero focused mainly on Madrid, as highlighted by Margarita Robles.
The Defense Minister also pointed out that there were another 200 UME troops in Aragon and 120 Army soldiers participating in the maintenance of communications networks in the province of Toledo.
Throughout the day the authorities of the central government and regional executives insisted over and over again on the following message: that citizens stay in their homes and avoid all displacements that were not unavoidable.
Robles warned that in the emergency rooms of the Gómez Ulla hospital in Madrid there had been an increase in patients with “trauma problems” due to “significant falls”.