Emergency rescue crews head to Madeira

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The Independent Online

Portugal was today flying out emergency rescue crews and equipment to the holiday island of Madeira after flooding and mudslides feared to have killed at least 38 people and injured dozens more.

British tourists have been advised to stay indoors on the Atlantic island, which has seen torrents of muddy water course through the streets of capital Funchal.

The Portuguese civil protection agency said a medical team backed up by divers and rescue experts was heading out on a C-130 transport plane.

An unknown number of British tourists are currently staying on the island, which is a popular winter sun destination, but they are being told to stay in their accommodation.

British holidaymaker Cathy Sayers said Funchal was like a ghost town and that the infrastructure had been wrecked.

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

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

A spokesman for travel watchdog Abta said the number of British holidaymakers on Madeira was not "a large amount".

"They are being advised to stay in their hotels," he said.

"Representatives from tour operators are in the process of trying to visit them."

The floods swept away cars and tore down houses as the storm hit early yesterday. Roads were blocked by fallen trees and some bridges also collapsed.

Some phone lines have been disabled forcing the emergency services to appeal over local radio stations for off-duty doctors and nurses to report for duty.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We have not received reports of British casualties or injuries, consular staff are monitoring the situation and stand ready to provide assistance."

Madeira is the main island of a Portuguese archipelago of the same name in the Atlantic Ocean, off the north-west coast of Africa.

Regional president Alberto Joao Jardim has appealed for emergency aid from the European Union.

Island authorities said the storm, the worst to hit Madeira for 17 years, has displaced 250 people.