Survivors tell of fear as freak storm hits
Group escapes on last flight off flooded island
A GROUP of Northern Ireland travel agents have described the terror of being caught up in the floods and landslides that have devastated the Portuguese holiday island of Madeira.
The Department of Foreign Affairs last night said that there had been no injuries to any of the small number of Irish residents who live on the island.
A spokesman for the department said that while Madeira is a moderately popular holiday destination, the badly affected areas are not part of the tourist districts.
"From what we understand, most of the landslides and damage are in the interior, so it's less likely that overseas visitors would have been affected," he said.
He also confirmed that the Government has no intention of encouraging Irish holiday-makers in the region to return home.
"The situation seems to be under control, and the weather forecast isn't predicting more rain.
"The embassy has been in touch with the Irish residents that we know out there to make sure they're okay.
"We've also talked to the British consul who has been going around all the hospitals making sure that any foreign nationals who might have been hospitalised are okay."
Sinead Moynihan, the proprietor of an Irish bar on the island, suggested yesterday that the infrastructure on the island may have contributed to the catastrophe.
"The roads going into the region aren't very modern -- and they're quite hilly," she said.
"There was so much happening in the city centre that all the crew were in here. They couldn't get out, so today two army helicopters have come from the mainland and that's helped to get in and set up communication again."
Meanwhile, a group of Northern Ireland travel agents have described the terror of being caught up in the floods.
Natasha Warcholak (35) is a travel journalist from Belfast. She and 10 travel agents from Northern Ireland were in Madeira on an educational trip with Cadogan Holidays when the heavy rainstorms hit the island.
The group managed to get one of the last flights off the island yesterday before the airport was forced to close.
They arrived back into Dublin last night.
"When we woke up on Saturday morning the rain was lashing down. From our hotel we could see the high waves and the swell at the harbour.
"We saw people running and cars being swept away. We were so lucky to get off the island as they closed the airport just after our departure.
"We were very worried and almost sure that we would not be able to get our flight home because of the weather," she added.