Madrid digs way out of post-storm garbage, damaged trees

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MADRID – (AP) – While piles of ice and snow still cover most of Madrid’s streets, the Spanish capital began on Thursday to grapple with the problem of garbage piled up in the streets and tens of thousands of trees and branches blocking the sidewalk less than a week after Storm Filomena.

The Madrid city government estimated on Thursday that Filomena caused at least 1.4 billion euros ($ 1.7 billion) in damage.

Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida said the storm damaged 150,000 trees. Large parks, including Retiro Park in the heart of the city and the huge Casa de Campo park on the western outskirts of Madrid, have suffered.

Martínez-Almeida said the city had calculated that 1,250 tons of snow (1,378 US tons) fell continuously for 30 hours at the height of the storm on Friday and Saturday, adding that it was the largest fall in Madrid snow for a century.

Fortunately, the Royal Botanic Gardens, one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, have survived almost unscathed.

Garden curator Mariano Sánchez said only 36 of his thousands of trees were damaged. While most of the species in the collection have survived intact, laboratory work should be done to save two severely damaged special trees, one an 18th century Chilean pepper tree.

Sánchez said he was sad to see years of work almost wiped out in hours, but he was happy that “the damage was not too excessive” in the garden.

He blamed much of the storm damage to Madrid’s trees to systematic annual pruning, a process he said robbed urban trees of their strength.

“This is absurd and must stop,” Sánchez told The Associated Press. The policy of planting too many trees too close together doesn’t help, he said.

Meanwhile, with garbage trucks unable to collect the first few days after the storm, garbage piled up across town, overflowing public and household trash cans.

The mayor said garbage collection is back at full speed, but it will likely take Madrid several days to return to normal.

Martínez-Almeida said the “snow tsunami” that hit Madrid justified its call on the national government to declare the city a disaster zone to make it eligible for financial assistance to repair damage to buildings and infrastructure.

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