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Snow in Spain: Clear up begins after blizzards but ice now posing a major hazard

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Snow in Spain: Clear up begins after blizzards but ice now posing a major hazard
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Madrid is trying to get back on its feet after a 50-year record snowfall that paralysed large parts of central Spain over the weekend.

It has now led to icy weather that is hampering the rollout of the much-needed vaccination against the coronavirus.

Storm Filomena has lost much of its potency and is moving eastwards, but weather experts say the freezing temperatures will keep on falling into minus figures for several days.

Spain was brought to a standstill on Saturday after record-setting snowfalls blanketed much of the country, bringing transport links grinding to a halt.

With a sharp drop in temperatures on Monday and frost freezing much of the snow, which reached more than 50 centimetres (20 inches) in some urban areas, authorities are calling on people to avoid all but essential trips out of their homes.

Conscious of the hazards now presented by ice, groups of local residents have been lending a hand with clearing the path to essential facilities.

"We live in this neighbourhood. Yesterday, we saw it on social media and all of our friends agreed to come this morning just to clear the way from the bus stop to the psychiatry building of the Gregorio Marañón Hospital," explained psychologist Rocío Sedano. "We want people to be able to walk safely, that they're able to walk without ice and we do our best to make things as safe as possible."

The secretary of a local neighbourhood association, Félix Sánche, said it was great to be able to do something to help the health workers.

"They gave a lot to us during confinement and they have been going all-out during the pandemic, so the least we can do is to lend a hand".

The snow has turned Madrid's famous buildings and plazas into icescapes that have drawn sightseers, with many people, masked against COVID-19 and the cold, taking advantage to get some fresh air and have a little fun in the snow.

The snowploughs have been out and about making the capital's streets accessible for ambulances and emergency vehicles.

Much of the city's main services remained closed on Monday, including the main wholesale market, although some supermarkets and newsstands opened for the first time in three days.

Residents, some with crampons and hiking sticks, could be seen warily trying to make their way on snow hardened into ice before disappearing into subway stations.

The underground train system has become the only viable way to commute to work. Commuter trains in Madrid and the high-speed railway between Barcelona and Madrid would resume later on Monday, the national railway company Renfe said.

The airport, which had been closed since Friday evening, saw a dozen flights take off or land on Monday and was expecting to resume full operations "throughout Monday," Transport Minister José Luis Ábalos said in an interview with Spain’s TVE.

But a new batch of 350,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that Spain was expecting to receive on Monday at Madrid Barajas airport had to be diverted to the northern city of Vitoria, where a difficult effort to distribute it throughout the rest of the country by land was underway.