Deaths on Portuguese island rise to 42

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lisbon - The death toll from the flood-and mudslide-hit Portuguese Atlantic island of Madeira has risen to 42.

On Saturday, violent rainstorms hit the island leaving hundreds injured and many unaccounted for.

Social issue director for the autonomous region of Madeira, Francisco Ramos said local authorities evacuated 250 people on Sunday.

"We have already identified (some) victims, and we hope the number does not increase, but it is probable it will, due to the circumstance," said Ramos.

He said the remains were taken to the airport of Madeira, and some of them have not been identified yet, adding that the authorities were not able to give numbers on the missing people.

"There are reports of missing people who have not been found due to the communication problems," Ramos said.

Some 85 people who had been reported missing returned to their homes and these were people who for a period of time were not able to contact their relatives due to the interruption of telephone services immediately after the flood and mudslide, said Ramos.

He said the restoration of communications was a priority.

Among the isolated towns is Curral das Freiras where the only highway connection was damaged by rains.

Funchola, Madeira's capital, reported 17 confirmed deaths but the number could rise.

The center of Funchola was flooded to the point that people have to use boats to move around.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates visited some affected areas late on Saturday.

Internal Administration Minister Rui Pereira, who also visited the affected area, said rescue teams of the National Guard were sent to affected areas to find the missing people with the assistance of sniffer dogs.

The government also sent three diving teams, 43 doctors and one group of firemen for the rescue job, Pereira said.

The Portuguese frigate "Corte Real" is expected to arrive on the island on Monday with 230 officers, including seven divers, to join the rescue efforts.

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