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Grim clean-up begins on Madeira

Emergency crews in Madeira continued their search last night for at least four people still missing after mud and rockslides killed 42 people on the Portuguese island.

Over 400 vehicles, including bulldozers and trucks, worked throughout Sunday night in an effort to clear debris, authorities said.

Several roads remained blocked by boulders, mud and trees which were dislodged by flash floods.

The torrent of muddy water swept away people, houses and vehicles on the steep-sloped island. More than 120 people were injured.

Light showers were forecast for the Atlantic Ocean island today.

Only four people were officially unaccounted for yesterday, but officials said there could be further victims. Parts of downtown Funchal, Madeira's capital, were cordoned off as crews dug into a shopping mall's mud-filled underground car park where officials feared more bodies may be found.

The head of the regional government, Alberto Joao Jardim, told people to stay at home yesterday and only go out if it was absolutely necessary. Madeira's schools were expected to stay closed, cancelling classes for some 30,000 students.

Locals said Saturday's storm was the worst in living memory. Officials said a month's rain fell on the island in eight hours.

The Portuguese government was holding a special Cabinet meeting yesterday and was expected to announce three days of national mourning for the victims. Wrapped in white body bags, victims were taken to Funchal's international airport where officials have set up a makeshift morgue.

Among the dead was a local firefighter who was swept away in a muddy torrent as he tried to save a woman, his colleagues said. The UK's Foreign Office confirmed late on Sunday that a British national had died, but declined to give further details.

It also said a small number of Britons had been taken to hospital on Madeira.

The island is popular with British tourists because of its usually mild climate.

Madeira is the main island, with a population of around 250,000, of a Portuguese archipelago of the same name in the Atlantic Ocean, just over 300 miles (480km) off the west coast of Africa. The flash floods were so powerful that they carved paths down mountains and ripped through the capital, churning under some bridges and tearing others down.

“We heard a very loud noise, like rolling thunder. The ground shook and then we realised it was water coming down,” said Briton Simon Burbage.

Meanwhile, a medical team, divers and rescue experts from mainland Portugal, 550 miles (900km) north-east of Madeira, arrived on the island on Sunday on board a military transport plane.

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