Photos: Floodwaters ravage Madeira

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  1. A woman cleans out a store along a street filled with mud and debris on Monday, Feb. 22, in downtown Funchal, the capital of Portugal's Madeira Island. Emergency crews used sniffer dogs to search through huge piles of debris for at least four people still missing after flash floods and rockslides on Saturday killed at least 42 people on the vacation island. (Armando Franca / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A man walks by a bridge wrecked by flash flooding in Ribeira Brava, about 10 miles outside Funchal. A heavy rain on Saturday caused damage throughout Madeira Island, the main island of the Portuguese archipelago. (Armando Franca / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Villagers collect their belongings in Funchal. (Gregorio Cunha / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Cars are buried in rocky debris in downtown Funchal after the storm. (Armando Franca / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Heavy machinery is used to clear a river bed of rocks and debris in downtown Funchal. (Armando Franca / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Houses were damaged by heavy flooding in the village of Vasco Gil on Madeira Island. Authorities ordered the evacuation of same areas after fears of some landslides. (Manuel De Almeida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A woman and her son stand at a central street completly covered by mud in Funchal on Sunday. (Manuel De Almeida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Mud covers a religious icon on the wall of a house on Sunday. (Armando Franca / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rescue workers and volunteers transfer a body from a bulldozer to an ambulance outside Funchal, Sunday. The body was recovered from a car that was dragged off of a road and down a hillside by heavy rain Saturday. (Octavio Passos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Firefighters and volunteers work to free a car trapped between two houses Sunday, by a road where several cars were carried by floodwaters onto hillside homes. (Armando Franca / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A store mannequin stands in a street filled with mud Sunday, outside a flooded shopping center in Funchal. (Armando Franca / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. People look on as a street is engulfed by heavy flooding in downtown Funchal on Saturday. (Duarte Sa / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Debris brought by flooding litters the water in the port of Funchal, the Madeira Island's capital, on Saturday. (Octavio Passos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A man is helped while trying to cross a flooded street in Funchal, Saturday. (Octavio Passos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Firefighters use a boat in a flooded street in Funchal, Saturday. (Octavio Passos / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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msnbc.com news services
updated 2/22/2010 7:15:58 PM ET 2010-02-23T00:15:58

The number of people missing after floods hit the resort island of Madeira jumped Monday, raising fears the death toll in Portugal's worst natural disaster in a decade may increase, officials said.

Rescue workers have scrambled to find survivors and clean up after torrential rains on Saturday turned streams into gushing rivers that blasted through the island's capital, overturning cars, destroying houses and blocking roads.

The number of residents reporting relatives as missing jumped to 32 on Monday as communications were re-established, far above the previous missing number of four. The official death toll is 42.

"The number of missing has risen because with the re-establishment of communications people started to report missing family members," Joao Cunha e Silva, vice-president of semi-autonomous Madeira's government, told reporters.

Cunha e Silva said 42 people had been confirmed dead and 370 had been left homeless on the island, which receives thousands of northern European tourists every year.

Rescue work initially focused on the capital, Funchal, but as roads on the mountainous island were gradually reopened, it became clear the floods had also struck villages in the interior.

Sniffer dogs deployed
Emergency crews used sniffer dogs to scour heaps of boulders, broken trees and other debris blocking streets. Rescue teams dug cars out of head-high mounds of sludge to see if there was anyone inside.

Crews pumped rainwater and mud out of a shopping mall's underground parking lot in the capital, Funchal, where officials fear more bodies may be found. The parking lot's two levels were completely submerged.

Officials said most victims appeared to have either drowned or were crushed.

Meanwhile, authorities ordered the evacuation of some hamlets as showers raised fears of more landslides. Ankle-deep rainwater washed through Funchal's muddy streets.

Madeira island, with a population of more than 200,000, rises sharply to a central peak. Most large communities are in low-lying oceanside areas, while rural villages often cling to vertiginous escarpments.

Locals said the storm was the worst in memory. Officials said a month's worth of rain fell in about eight hours, unleashing a torrent of water and mud that swept away people, houses and vehicles.

Appeal to stay calm
In Ribeira Brava, a village at the foot of a valley about 10 miles from Funchal, Mayor Ismael Fernandes appealed for calm and urged people to stay put after residents started fleeing out of fear of a landslide.

Some houses and a clinic on the outskirts of Ribeira Brava were evacuated because of concerns that a hillside above the village could give way. When word of that order spread, people rushed to leave Ribeira Brava and traffic jams formed as cars lined up to get out.

Rescue teams in more than 400 vehicles, including bulldozers, worked through the night to clear tons of caked mud, boulders and snapped trees, authorities said.

Video: Madeira 'devastated' after mudslide, says visitor "The recovery is going to be a hard work," resident Miguel Eduardo told Associated Press Television News. "It will take us a few months to recover."

Almost 120 people forced to leave their homes were staying at a military barracks, according to the regional government.

Several main roads remained blocked. Officials hoped to reopen all the island's roads by the end of the week.

Victims in white body bags were taken to Funchal's international airport, where a makeshift morgue was set up. Among the dead was a firefighter who was swept away as he tried to save a woman, his colleagues said.

One British national killed
The British Foreign office said one British national was killed and a few others had been hospitalized on Madeira. The island is popular with British tourists because of its mild climate.

Madeira is the main island of a Portuguese archipelago of the same name in the Atlantic Ocean just over 300 miles off the west coast of Africa.

The head of the regional government, Alberto Joao Jardim, told people to stay at home if they could Monday and schools canceled classes for 30,000 students.

The floods were so powerful they carved paths down mountains and ripped through the city, churning under some bridges and tearing others down.

"A woman came running and said the water is coming and then she started to run, and then we ran with her," Danish tourist Luna Graigsson told APTN. "It was astonishing that the water came so fast."

The Portuguese government was holding a special Cabinet meeting Monday and was expected to announce three days of mourning for the victims. It may also grant financial aid to rebuild Madeira's many destroyed roads and bridges.

The regional government says it has no estimate yet of its financial needs.

Portugal Telecom said 85 percent of the island's cellular and fixed-line capacity was restored by late Sunday.

Environmental groups alleged that building on natural water runoffs and the island's poor infrastructure management contributed to the disaster, but officials insisted it was impossible to prepare for such a freak deluge.

A Portuguese Navy frigate bringing troops to help with the cleanup was scheduled to dock in Funchal later Monday. A medical team with divers and rescue experts arrived Sunday aboard a military transport plane.

Light showers were forecast for the Atlantic Ocean island Monday and Tuesday.

Real Madrid soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, Madeira's most famous son, said he would play in a special charity match for Madeira organized by Portuguese champions Porto.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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