February 20, 2010 / 10:03 PM / 10 years ago

Floods kill at least 32 on Madeira

FUNCHAL, Portugal (Reuters) - At least 32 people have been killed by torrents of water and mud unleashed by a violent rainstorm on the Portuguese resort island of Madeira, officials said on Saturday.

People look on as a street with vehicles is engulfed by heavy flooding in downtown Funchal, Madeira February 20, 2010. REUTERS/Duarte Sa

The deluge felled trees, washed away bridges, blocked roads with rocks and mud and cut off parts of the Atlantic island, a popular tourist destination about 1,000 km southwest of Lisbon.

“The areas of Funchal and Ribeira Brava suffered from major floods and mudslides, and that’s where we have most of the 32 dead. 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 told Reuters.

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.

“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.

Reporting by Andrei Khalip, editing by Mark Trevelyan

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