Flood-hit Madeira hunts for 13 missing
FUNCHAL, Portugal - Divers and sniffer-dog teams mounted a last-ditch effort in Madeira on Tuesday to track down 13 people missing and feared dead following flash floods on the Portuguese tourist island.
Killer mudslides ripped through the Atlantic island at the weekend, claiming 42 lives as they gutted buildings and overturned cars with the top regional official warning the final death toll could rise "dramatically".
The island's regional government on Tuesday revised the number of missing down from 32 to 13, with spokeswoman Conceicao Estudante telling journalists 19 people had been found.
"They had not disappeared but were displaced and their loved ones were unable to contact them," Estudante said at a news conference at the regional government headquarters in the island's main city Funchal.
She said the death toll remained 42, denying reports that more bodies were found on Monday, as funerals began on Tuesday for victims of the weekend's devastation.
In San Antonio, near Funchal, hundreds gathered to bury three members of the same family, including a five-year-old child, killed on Saturday when a crane collapsed on the garage where they had taken refuge.
Pope Benedict XVI sent a message blessing the victims of the floods as well as their relatives and rescue workers.
Rescuers toiled through the night to pump mud and water from a flooded carpark in Funchal where drivers are believed to have sought refuge as a torrent engulfed the streets on Saturday.
Witnesses told AFP they had also seen several people dragged by the waters into the underground carpark. Navy divers went down Monday night to search for bodies, but to no avail, a regional government official said.
Fears for motorists in flooded Madeira carpark
A Portuguese warship carrying helicopters and loaded with relief supplies was anchored off Madeira and fresh reinforcements were flown in from Lisbon on a military aircraft late Monday, including search dogs, divers and pumps.
Portugal has declared three days of national mourning ending Wednesday for the Madeira victims, who include a 50-year-old British tourist.
Funchal's normally picturesque seafront avenue was still thigh-deep in mud on Tuesday, but in nearby alleyways life was getting back to normal, with cafes and shops taking deliveries and reopening for business.
Downtown, bulldozers and earthmovers were churning their way through the tonnes of rubble blocking many streets, while others worked to clear boulders from the city's three rivers.
Many roads were still blocked, but officials said they hoped traffic would be back to normal within two or three days.
Water distribution tanks continued to do the rounds on the heights of Funchal, where many houses were carried away by the mudslide and the water supply was cut.
Authorities were working to restore power and water to several towns in the south and centre of the island, with the resort of Ribeira Brava 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Funchal cut off after floods destroyed a section of highway.
Dozens of people fled their homes in Ribeira Brava on Monday, as well as from a high-risk zone in Ponta do Sol further west, for fear that nearby hillsides were about to collapse.
Green groups and construction experts charge that rogue development and bad urban planning has left Madeira vulnerable to flash floods.
Madeira has yet to put a figure on the flood damage, but the island chose not to declare a natural disaster for fear of scaring away the tourists who are the island's economic lifeblood.
Portugal plans to turn to the European Union and European Investment Bank for financial aid for Madeira's recovery.
Promises of help have already come from Spain and its Canary Islands, as well as from football star Cristiano Ronaldo, Madeira's most famous native, who was born in Funchal.
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