Spain shivers in coldest winter for a decade

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The Independent Online


They are celebrating on the ski slopes of the Sierra Nevada, but elsewhere in Spain the "Siberia Express" - the coldest and snowiest spell for a decade - has brought misery, death and millions of pounds of losses.

A glacial airstream churning across Europe from the Russian tundra has buried the north of the country in snow for most of the week, cutting off thousands of towns and villages and closing 91 mountain passes.

Snow also fell in Majorca and Minorca where motorists were advised to drive with snow chains. And in the Mediterranean city of Malaga, where palm trees line the boulevards, people shivered in their fur coats while temperatures hovered around zero.

Throughout the northern provinces, thousands of lorries were snowbound for days, causing losses that the transport industry puts at 3bn pesetas (pounds 15m). In Valladolid, the Renault factory suspended production, causing a loss of nearly 1,700 cars a day, because lorries could not get through from France to deliver parts. Strong winds brought down telephone lines and electricity cables to 900 towns in the Pyrenees and the mountains of Cantabrica.

In the north-western region of Galicia, a man drowned in a pool of water while making his way home during the storm, and a woman in the Aragonese town of Teruel died from head injuries after slipping on ice. In the Picos de Europa, in Asturias, a family of four who went missing on Monday during a mountaineering excursion were rescued after having sheltered in a refuge hut for three days.

Flights and trains heading north from Madrid were cancelled or delayed. One train from Madrid to Santander carrying 427 passengers was stranded all night in an ava-lanche near the village of Mataporquera in Cantabrica, with snow half-way up its windows.

The thaw started to set in yesterday, and temperatures were forecast to rise at the weekend, bringing the prospect of avalanches and flooding. But at least Spain's parched reservoirs are expected to be filled.