Unusually heavy rain brought tonnes of mud and rock off the island’s hillsides and into its coastal towns, causing chaos.

The known death toll from the disaster stood at 42 on Monday morning, but with several remote settlements in the south of the island still cut off officials feared that number would rise once they could be reached.

While its position in the Atlantic some 300 miles off the west coast of Africa leaves Madeira vulnerable to storms, the severity of Saturday’s downpour was unusual.

The Portuguese military has sent specialist search and rescue teams to the island and the country is expected to observe three days of mourning following the disaster.

Madeira’s most famous son, footballer Christiano Ronaldo, has said he is ‘shocked and dismayed’ by the floods and plan to organise a charity match to raise funds to help rebuild its weather-battered towns.

Sam Bond

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