Page last updated at 01:21 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Rescue teams work round the clock in Madeira

by Robert Hall
BBC News, Madeira

Buildings devastated by a mudslide in centre of Funchal
Flood waters and mudslides have torn the heart out of Madeira's capital

Along the seafront in Funchal, a wide palm-fringed avenue borders the harbour, normally the perfect place for a holiday stroll, but there are no sightseers tonight... just gangs of weary salvage workers, and a constant rumble of heavy machinery.

Round the clock, the efforts to clear tonnes of mud and rock carried down from the mountains has been unceasing.

In Funchal's deserted shopping centre, hoses thread through the narrow streets where residents are still trying to gain access to ruined and waterlogged buildings.

They're getting on with the clear-up, but there's a kind of darkness hanging over the city, it's so sad

The flood waters have torn the heart out of Madeira's capital. The local paper carries one banner headline: "Devastation."

This is an island especially popular with British visitors, who have always received a warm welcome.

Now, standing in the heavy rain showers, they can barely believe what has unfolded around them.

One woman told me: "They're getting on with the clear-up, but there's a kind of darkness hanging over the city, it's so sad."

Just outside the capital, the scene of one tragedy is closed to public view.

Pamela Gaines, from East Yorkshire in the UK, was travelling in a taxi with her husband, and two friends, when it was carried away by floodwater, killing her.

The taxi driver also lost his life.

Slow progress

Help is arriving - a warship and extra troops to help restore infrastructure and communications.

But more heavy rain has hampered the teams who are making slow progress towards isolated communities in the mountains around Funchal, some of which remain cut off.

A second major operation centres on an underground car park near the capital's commercial centre. Divers have been carrying out searches amid fears that some of the missing have been trapped.

Madeira's government has once again warned that the death toll here could rise still further.

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