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Spanish Army called in to rescue drivers trapped by snow

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Over 240 soldiers with Spain’s military emergency unit (UME) worked non-stop on Sunday to rescue thousands of vehicles trapped by snow on a stretch of the country’s AP-6 freeway at the end of Spain’s Christmas holiday period, reported El Pais (Spain).

Between 3,500 and 4,000 vehicles found themselves stranded for as much as 18 hours as drivers waited for snowplows and emergency vehicles to clear a 60-kilometer section of the road in Segovia province northwest of Madrid.

At 2.30pm on Sunday, the country’s General Directorate of Traffic (DGT) announced the road was open in a “provisional manner” with the Civil Guard monitoring the situation.

“It is complete chaos. There are cars abandoned on the side of the road: we have done 30 kilometers in two hours,” one driver said of the situation on Saturday afternoon.

“At 90 kilometers from Madrid the traffic stopped completely and we didn’t move for nearly two and a half hours. When we started moving again, we saw cars that couldn’t move blocking lanes or facing the wrong way. Those of us who could move had to zigzag around the stopped cars,” said the driver.

“There are thousands of people out here who haven’t received any information. Nothing at all,” said Carlos Treviño who spent Sunday morning stranded on the AP-6. “They don’t even say on the internet on the radio or on the internet what they are doing. We haven’t seen a snowplow for hours,” said Treviño who was travelling with his family back to the Spanish capital from the Galician city of Lugo.

Soldiers with the UME used 70 vehicles to clear trapped cars one at a time, helping drivers to return where they had come from or diverting them onto secondary roads.

They also handed out blankets, water and hot drinks to people who found themselves trapped, while a large number of people were evacuated to hostels in nearby municipalities in Segovia province. People in poor health and babies were transferred in a four-wheel drive vehicle fitted out with medical supplies to Segovia where Madrid emergency health services and the Red Cross were on hand.

Around 150 people were forced to spend the night in a bar in a service area in Villacastín. “People were very angry because they paid a toll and did not receive any service,” said Jesús Pescador, the manager of the bar which experienced problems with its electricity supply on Saturday night.

Public Works Minister Íñigo de la Serna told Spanish radio station Cadena SER on Sunday afternoon that that the role of AP-6 concession holder Iberpistas in the situation over the weekend would be investigated.

In a press release, Iberpistas said it had worked together with authorities to implement on Friday measures to deal with the snowy conditions, including the use of 31 snowplows. However, the end of Christmas period had seen “a higher than usual” number of vehicles on the road, while many of these “vehicles did not have the necessary equipment.”

A “number of vehicles stopped on the road making the work of snowplows impossible,” the company said.

Wintery conditions would continue to affect much of Spain on Monday with snowfall expected in many inland areas in the north and center of the country, according to forecasts from the national weather agency Aemet.

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