By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) – Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida said Thursday the record snowfall in Madrid over the weekend caused an estimated €1.4 billion ($1.7 billion) in damage to the Spanish capital.
On Sunday, Madrid and much of central Spain saw record-breaking snow. The Spanish capital, where the temperature rarely drops below freezing, saw up to 50 cm (20 inches) in just over a day of intense snowfall.
The snow effectively brought the city to a standstill, with the exception of revelers who were seen skiing, sledding, and engaged in mass snowball fights across Madrid.
Buses stopped working, the airport closed, highways were completely blocked and even some metro lines were disrupted. This, in turn, led to empty supermarket shelves, major transportation issues and a number of injuries after people slipped and fell on the ice and snow-covered sidewalks.
After the storm, many shops and other businesses were forced to close because the staff were unable to arrive to work.
On Tuesday, the Madrid City Hall announced that access to all parks and green areas would be “indefinitely suspended” due to the danger of falling trees and branches. In historic parks like Retiro and Casa de Campo, officials say as many as 70% of the trees were damaged by the storm.
Falling branches likewise damaged a number of cars and buildings, while the weight of the snow caused other roofs and structures to collapse.
Schools also closed for the entire week in Madrid. On Thursday, Madrid's regional chief Isabel Ayuso told media that some schools will still not be able to reopen by next Monday.
Temperatures have remained freezing throughout the week and Madrid remains covered by a slippery blanket of snow and ice.
Sharp criticism has been leveled at local and regional politicians for not being adequately prepared to deal with the storm.
“I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to step outside right now. The situation is complicated and we’ve suffered an unprecedented catastrophe… I understand the residents’ complaints and impatience,” Almeida told broadcaster Cadena SER on Thursday.
Later, in a news conference, he announced he has formally asked the Spanish government to declare Madrid a “catastrophe zone.”
Whether or not the situation in Madrid meets the legal criteria to become a disaster area has fueled discussions between the progressive central government and right-wing regional and local governments of Madrid.
On Wednesday, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said in a news conference there is a “possibility” to invoke the emergency legislation but cast doubts on whether the disaster was extreme or widespread enough.
“If the government rejects declaring us as a catastrophe zone, it will leave us with a very complicated situation,” Almeida said in the news conference.