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Sniffer dogs search flood debris for Madeira's missing four

Emergency crews used sniffer dogs yesterday to search through huge piles of debris for at least four people still missing in Madeira yesterday after flash floods and rockslides killed 42 people.

The Portuguese government announced three days of mourning for the victims of the holiday island's worst disaster in living memory, while authorities scrambled to repair storm drains and clear debris from riverbeds, attempting to prevent a repeat of the landslides

Crews in the capital, Funchal, pumped water out of a shopping mall's underground parking lot, where they feared they might find more bodies. The lot's two levels were submerged Saturday, when the rainfall of a normal month poured down in just eight hours.

A nearby street was littered with earth-filled cars and stacks of catalogues used as stepping stones through the mud.

Anais Fernandes, a store clerk, described seeing the water knock out a bridge. "People were crossing, and you started to hear screams," she said. "Everyone was running together. It was horrible."

Rescue teams dug cars out of mounds of sludge to see if anyone was inside. Sniffer dogs scoured debris blocking the streets. Emergency crews used bulldozers to remove tons of caked mud, boulders and snapped trees from drains and rivers, hoping to speed water run-off.

"We've been going flat-out for 48 hours and we'll keep going till the job's done," Funchal mayor Miguel Albuquerque said.

Seven members of an eight-member family died when their hillside home was swept away, public broadcaster Radiotelevisao Portuguesa reported.

Officials said 18 of 151 people admitted to Funchal's main hospital were still being treated. Some 150 people were homeless and locals were jittery as showers swept in, dumping more water on sodden hillsides.

Rui Pereira, the Minister for Internal Administration, said in Lisbon the government was sending a second batch of aid to the island. A military transport plane was heading there with more sniffer-dogs, high-powered pumping equipment and equipment for army sappers to replace collapsed roads and bridges, he said. The financial needs of Madeira – a popular Atlantic Ocean tourist destination, just over 300 miles off the west coast of Africa – were still being calculated.