Portugal rushes aid to Madeira after deadly floods



The Portuguese military has sent specialist rescue teams to the island of Madeira, where at least 38 people are known to have died in rainstorms.

Tonnes of mud and stones were brought down the slopes of the island, flooding the streets of the regional capital, Funchal, and other towns.

Officials fear the death toll could rise. Water, power and phones were cut in some areas.

PM Jose Socrates, who is in Madeira, said he would "do everything to help".

A Portuguese Navy ship, with a helicopter and medical equipment, has departed for Madeira - which is located about 900km (560miles) from the Portuguese mainland and is popular with foreign tourists.



In pictures: Flood aftermath
Britons injured in Madeira floods
Your pictures

Officials say the extra emergency teams being sent include 56 military rescuers with search dogs and 36 firefighters.

Interior Minister Rui Pereira, who has also flown to the island, said forensic experts would conduct post-mortem examinations to allow funerals to take place soon.

He added: "We are studying the possibility of declaring a state of emergency and then seeking help from the European Union."

Funchal was among the worst affected areas by Saturday's floods and mudslides.

Television pictures showed muddy torrents coursing down narrow channels and spilling over the sides, roads awash with water and streets littered with debris.

'Ghost town'

Trees have been brought down and cars swept away, blocking roads and hampering relief teams. Some bridges and roads have been washed away.
MADEIRA FACTS

Autonomous region of Portugal with population of around 250,000
Lies just over 480km (300 miles) from West African coast
The European continent is more than 900km away


The UK foreign office said a small number of British nationals were being treated in hospital.

British holidaymaker Cathy Sayers told the BBC Funchal was like a ghost town. She said the infrastructure had been wrecked.

"The drains just cannot cope with the water that's coming down from the mountains - they are just overfilled with sludge."

There had not really been any warning that it would be quite so bad, she said.

"I think everyone is extremely shocked that this has happened at this time of year," she said.

The president of the regional government, Joao Jardim, said outdoor markets would be encouraged to reopen.

"We don't know how much it will affect the tourism, but there is no point in dramatising the situation too much," he said.

Local media say the authorities' main concern now is for residents of Nuns valley - an isolated mountainous region that rescue workers have been unable to reach.

The BBC Weather Centre says the severe weather was due to a low pressure system, and that while Madeira can expect further rain with heavy downpours on Sunday, there is no danger of a repeat of the flash floods.