Number missing in Madeira floods rises sharply

The number of people missing after floods hit the resort island of Madeira has jumped, officials said.

Number missing in Madeira floods rises sharply

The number of people missing after floods hit the resort island of Madeira has jumped, raising fears the death toll in Portugal's worst natural disaster in a decade may rise sharply, officials said on Monday.

Rescue workers have scrambled to find survivors and clean up after torrential rains on Saturday turned streams into gushing rivers that blasted through the island's capital, overturning cars, destroying houses and blocking roads.

The number of residents reporting relatives as missing jumped to 32 on Monday as communications were re-established, far above the previous missing number of four. The official death toll is 42.

"The number of missing has risen because with the re-establishment of communications people started to report missing family members," Joao Cunha e Silva, vice-president of semi-autonomous Madeira's government, told reporters.

Cunha e Silva said 42 people had been confirmed dead and 370 had been left homeless on the island, which receives thousands of northern European tourists every year.

Rescue work initially focused on the capital, Funchal, but as roads on the mountainous island were gradually reopened, it became clear the floods had also struck villages in the interior.

Four bodies dug out

A Reuters camera crew saw villagers in the Trapiche region above Funchal dig four bodies out of the rubble and mud. It was not clear whether they were included in the death toll of 42.

Earlier on Monday, the government in Lisbon promised to send financial aid to Madeira quickly.

"At the national level and at the EU level, we will put into action all necessary help," Interior Minister Rui Pereira told journalists after a special cabinet meeting, which declared three days of mourning after the disaster.

He said Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos would travel to Madeira on Tuesday to talk to regional authorities: "Tomorrow there could be an evaluation" of the cost of the damage.

The government said it would ask for solidarity funds from the European Union to help rebuild infrastructure on the island, which lies some 1,000 km (625 miles) southwest of Lisbon.

The storm on Saturday unleashed floods and mudslides on the Atlantic island, washing away bridges and burying houses under tonnes of mud. The dead included one British national.

The loss of life was the highest in Portugal since a bridge over the Douro River collapsed in 2001, killing 59 people.

Officials are closely watching weather forecasts, which predict no heavy rain for Madeira in coming days, but Portugal's winter has been unusually wet. More rain fell on Saturday alone than the average for the entire month.

Real Madrid soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, Madeira's most famous son, said he would play in a special charity match for Madeira organised by Portuguese champions Porto.


Reuters

Last Mod: 23 Şubat 2010, 16:24
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