Rescue efforts underway as Portuguese death toll rises / PHOTO

Portuguese rescue workers using bulldozers searched on Sunday for more bodies under debris after violent floods and mudslides.

Rescue efforts underway as Portuguese death toll rises / PHOTO

Portuguese rescue workers using bulldozers searched on Sunday for more bodies under debris after violent floods and mudslides killed at least 40 people on the resort island of Madeira.

Authorities flew more rescue teams and military engineers from the mainland to help the Atlantic island where a heavy rainstorm on Saturday unleashed floods and mudslides, washing away bridges, blocking roads with rocks and mud and cutting off parts of the island.

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Pedro Barbosa, deputy chief of the regional civil protection service, told Reuters one village, Curral das Freiras, was still cut off and could only be contacted by radio.

"We know there are some victims there, not a high number, but we will only know the details when rescuers reach the village later today," he said.

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Francisco Ramos, the regional secretary for social affairs, told reporters there were 40 confirmed deaths on Madeira, which lies about 1,000 km (625 miles) southwest of Lisbon.

"We hope this number will not rise, but it probably will given the circumstances of this deluge," he said. "All teams are in the field working ... We will continue looking for bodies, we are awaiting teams from the continent."

Cars were swept away by the torrents and some houses were destroyed or damaged on Saturday. Barbosa said about 120 people were injured and 300 spent the night in temporary shelters.

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Ramos gave no estimate of the number of people missing, saying these were unreliable as many of the people initially unaccounted for were returning home on Sunday from temporary shelters after being unable to communicate with their families when mobile networks failed.

Alberto Joao Jardim, the leader of the regional government, said there had been "no serious incident" involving the tourism sector on the island.

Many of the tourists on Madeira, which held its popular annual Carnival parades last week, were Britons visiting for the half-term school holiday.

"Our hotel is not full at this time, but we have lots of guests from all over Europe -- Britons, Dutch, Germans. Thank God, everyone is safe and from what we know there have been no victims among tourists elsewhere," said a clerk at the Windsor Hotel in Funchal who did not want to be identified.

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Many tourists could be seen in Funchal on Sunday taking pictures of the damage as the weather improved.

"The hotel is empty now, everyone is in the streets," said an administration worker at the Monte Carlo hotel.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates visited Madeira late on Saturday, pledging "all aid that the regional government requires in this serious situation".

A military transport plane with rescue teams, including divers, was due to arrive in Funchal later on Sunday. A navy frigate was heading for the island to help with the search effort and the reconstruction of bridges.

Meteorologists said the amount of rainfall that fell in one day on Saturday exceeded the monthly average, but no heavy rainfall was expected on Madeira over the next few days.


Agencies

Last Mod: 21 Şubat 2010, 18:48
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