Death toll from Spain floods rises to four

Jose Jordan with Daniel Silva in Madrid
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In flooded Redovan, some 50km (30 miles) southwest of Alicante, some people were being evacuated with diggers

Two more people died as torrential rain and flash floods battered southeastern Spain, raising the death toll to four as the storm caused havoc for travellers and forced 3,500 people from their homes, officials said Friday.

A middle-aged man died early Friday in the city of Almeria after his car was trapped in a tunnel that flooded within minutes, local emergency services said.

Almeria Mayor Ramon Fernandez-Pacheco told news radio Cadena Ser that a policeman managed to rescue two of the three people in the vehicle but that one occupant remained inside.

Several hours later an emergency services helicopter spotted the body of a 36-year-old man in the region of Andalusia who had been reported missing and feared dead due to the flooding, a local emergency services spokeswoman said. His empty car had been found earlier in the day.

A 61-year-old man and his 51-year-old sister died on Thursday when their vehicle was swept away as fast-moving waters swamped a road in Caudete, a municipality around 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the port city of Valencia.

Parts of southeastern Spain have since Wednesday suffered some of the heaviest rainfall on record, which has caused chaos on the roads, cutting public transport and prompting rivers to burst their banks, flooding homes.

Floodwaters reached up to people's knees in the town of Redovan in the region of Valencia and residents used buckets to try and empty the water from their homes, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

Around 3,500 people have been evacuated from their homes, according to the interior ministry.

Some 3,000 state security forces, including police, firefighters and soldiers from a military emergency unit, were taking part in the rescue operation, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told a news conference, calling it a "serious situation". Many had cancelled their holidays to help, he added.

Grande-Marlaska and Culture Minister Jose Guirao, who is from the region, were due to visit the affected areas on Friday.

Footage broadcast on Spanish media showed emergency services workers on a jet ski inspecting a flooded highway tunnel and brown water rushing through streets, along with cars that had been washed away.

- 'Very critical' -

The regional airport in Almeria was closed for several hours Friday because flooding made it difficult for workers to reach it, forcing the cancellation of two flights and the diversion of two others to to Malaga, Spanish airports operator AENA said.

The airport in Murcia remained closed while 22 flights due to arrive at the airport in Palma on the holiday island of Mallorca were diverted to other Spanish airports, it added.

In October 2018 torrential rain and flash floods killed 13 people in Mallorca.

Rail service was suspended on several routes in Valencia and Murcia, state-owned train operator Renfe said in a statement.

Authorities urged people in the area not to drive and stay home if possible.

"The situation remains very critical," the head of the regional government of Murcia, Fernando Lopez Miras, said during an interview with Spanish public television TVE.

Schools suspended classes on Friday in the Valencia region, in Murcia and in parts of Andalusia, authorities said.

In Valencia alone, more than 689,000 students were affected, according to the regional government.