Yorkshire family devastated by woman's death on holiday isle

THE family of a Yorkshire woman killed in floods that struck the holiday island of Madeira have said no words could express their sense of devastation.

Pamela Gaines, from Garton-on-the-Wolds, in East Yorkshire, was swept away in the capital Funchal when the taxi she was in was engulfed by water.

The 50-year-old was travelling with her husband, Philip, and two British friends who all escaped from the vehicle but the taxi driver was also reportedly swept to his death.

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Mrs Gaines's three sons have flown to Madeira to be with their father.

In a statement Mrs Gaines's family said they wished to be left alone to grieve – adding: "We are all shocked and deeply saddened with no words beginning to describe what we have lost."

Villagers spoke of their shock and sorrow at the sudden news.

The Rev John Tallant, vicar at St Michael's Church, said he had met Mrs Gaines, and that her death was "very sad" for the family and the village. "It is a blow but we do not know any more at this stage," he said.

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Cliff Wilson, a churchwarden, said agronomist Mr Gaines helped with weed-killing in the churchyard: "It is sad for the whole village, it is a real shock.

"I did not know Mrs Gaines well, but I know Philip. He is a regular at the church and she used to come from time to time.

"Everyone here will be very sorry and very upset about this tragedy."

At least 42 people have been killed and more than 120 injured in the floods and mudslides which started after heavy rainfall on Saturday.

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Peter Ramos, of Hospital Cruz de Carvalho, said three of the injured were from the UK.

One woman remained in hospital with multiple injuries, while two men sustained minor injuries and had been discharged.

The torrents of water and mud wrecked bridges on the hilly island, and littered roads with cars, trees and rocks.

Phone lines were also disabled, forcing the emergency services to appeal over local radio stations for off-duty medical staff to report for work.

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Ricardo Macedo, manager of Hotel Monte Carlo in Funchal, said the floods were the worst he could remember in his lifetime, with three inches of rain falling in an hour.

"The water was absolutely incredible. Just outside my house it was two to three feet deep," he said. "It looked like something you'd see on a white water rafting trip.

"I saw a car go down my street without a driver, then end up in a pile at the bottom. This struck mid-morning when people were out shopping."

Madeira – which is the main island of an archipelago around 300 miles off the north west coast of Africa – is a popular winter sun destination for British holidaymakers.

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Such has been the body count on the normally tranquil destination that the authorities had to use the international airport as a makeshift mortuary.

The island's most famous son, former Manchester United player Cristiano Ronaldo, said: "Nobody can remain indifferent to the disaster. I want to express my willingness to, as far as I can, help agencies and authorities to overcome the effects of this devastation."

Tourists were being advised to stay indoors over the weekend.

Portugal flew emergency rescue crews and equipment to the Atlantic island at the weekend. The Portuguese civil protection agency said a medical team backed up by divers and rescue experts headed out on a C-130 transport plane.

Regional president Alberto Joao Jardim has appealed for emergency aid from the European Union.

Island authorities said the storm, the worst to hit Madeira for 17 years, has displaced 250 people.