Portugal Floods Kill at Least 40, Displace 250

violent rainstorm felled trees, washed away bridges, blocked roads with rocks and mud and cut off parts of Madeira

February 21, 2010

LISBON - Portugal has sent emergency aid to the resort island of Madeira, where at least 40 people were killed and dozens injured after heavy rain caused flooding and mudslides, Portuguese authorities said on Sunday.

Photo: A man is helped as he tries to cross the street in Funchal, Madeira's capital (Octavio Passos / AP)

The civil protection agency said it was sending a medical team backed up by divers and rescue experts to the tourist destination in the Atlantic Ocean. The plane was scheduled to fly out Sunday morning, also carrying telecommunications equipment to help repair damage to phone lines that were wiped out.

Saturday's violent rainstorm felled trees, washed away bridges, blocked roads with rocks and mud and cut off parts of the Atlantic island, a popular tourist destination about 625 miles southwest of Lisbon.

The death toll "will likely increase given the circumstances of this flood," regional social services spokesman Francisco Ramos said, adding that there were "great difficulties" in communications.

Ramos said the search for bodies will continue and that officials were "waiting for teams from the mainland to continue working on the ground."

The deluge also displaced some 250 people and was the worst to hit the island since 1993, authorities said.

"The areas of Funchal and Ribeira Brava suffered from major floods and mudslides. Some people are also unaccounted for," said Pedro Barbosa, deputy chief of the regional civil protection service in Madeira's capital Funchal.

"Now the weather conditions have improved and we are starting to evaluate the damage," he said.

Alberto Joao Jardim, the leader of the regional government, said 68 people were in hospital emergency wards and the government was making temporary shelters available for several hundred people left homeless.


Roaring streams of water and mud from the hills above Funchal coursed through the streets of the town, dragging and overturning cars and vans. Three underground parking levels at a shopping mall were completely flooded, but it had been evacuated in time.

Photo: People look on as a street with cars is engulfed by heavy flooding in downtown Funchal on the island of Madeira on Saturday. (Duarte Sa / Reuters)

"I am absolutely saddened and shocked with the images, with the consequences of this calamity," Prime Minister Jose Socrates said.

Socrates and Interior Minister Rui Pereira were travelling to Madeira to assess the damage and coordinate aid.

"The problem requires a response on the national level," Pereira said.

Meteorologists said no heavy rainfall was expected on Madeira in the next few days after the violent downpour that capped an unusually rainy February.

It was not immediately clear whether any tourists were among the victims, said Barbosa from the civil protection service.