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32 dead as rainstorms hit Portuguese island

world Updated: Feb 21, 2010 08:38 IST
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Violent rainstorms have killed at least 32 people on the Portuguese Atlantic island of Madeira, a senior official said, as Lisbon mulled declaring an emergency and seeking European help.

"We already have 32 fatalities and 68 injured, all of them in hospital," Joao Cunha e Silva, the vice president of the island's government, told the private Sic Noticias television channel yesterday.

The Portuguese naval frigate Corte-Real set off from Lisbon on Saturday night with helicopters, a medical team and relief supplies for Madeira, the armed forces said in a statement.

Also en route were two helicopters and two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. A rescue team of 56 gendarmes and 36 firefighters was to depart Lisbon for the island's main city of Funchal today morning.

Interior Minister Rui Pereira said: "We are studying the possibility of declaring a state of emergency and then seeking help from the European Union."

The island's airport was closed and Funchal mayor Miguel Albuquerque advised residents to stay at home.

The overnight strong winds and heavy rain caused flooding and landslides, particularly in the south of Madeira, a resort island located 900 kilometres (560 miles) southwest of the Portuguese mainland.