Tourism chiefs have urged holidaymakers not to abandon Madeira as a tourist destination following flash floods and mudslides at the weekend that left at 42 dead and hundreds homeless.
The regional president, Alberto Joao Jardim, who has been in power for 32 years, is said to have stalled the decision to declare a state of emergency on the island for fear of scaring off tourists.
Michael Blandy, chairman of the Blandy group, which has five hotels on the island and caters for the majority of British visitors to Madeira, said many people had been put off coming to Madeira.
“Because of the dramatic images of the devastation there have been cancellations and warnings of cancellations to come and that is very concerning,” he said.
But he predicted that the impact would be quick to pass and that Madeira would soon recover and return to normal “hopefully within days”.
“In reality it is a very small area that has been affected and the authorities are working incredibly hard to restore the infrastructure and ensure a return to normality.”
Madeira began burying its dead on Tuesday, even as emergency teams continued searching for 15 people who remain missing.
Some areas of the main shopping area in Funchal remained inaccessible as bulldozers and earthmovers churned their way through the tonnes of rubble, debris and mud that had filled the streets following flash floods last Saturday.
Recovery teams were meanwhile working to pump water from the flooded underground car park of a downtown shopping centre where it was feared more bodies would be found after drivers became trapped following Saturday’s deluge.
On Tuesday, parts of the historical centre of the capital that had been cordoned off by police during the clean-up operation were reopened, and tourists, many of whom had been confined to their hotels for several days, were venturing out.
“We want to assure people that Madeira is safe, that there are no problems at the hotels and that the usual tourist activities are resuming very quickly,” said Conceicão Estudante, regional secretary of tourism and transportation on Madeira.
“Of course it will take time to rebuild some of the infrastructure and that won’t happen overnight but there is absolutely no reason for people not to come. Within a week we expect normal life to be resumed.”
Almost 1 million foreign tourists visit Madeira each year by air and a further 400,000 arrive on cruise ships. British holidaymakers account for around 20 per cent of visitors on the island where tourism directly accounts for 20 per cent of GDP.
Madeira has yet to put a figure on the flood damage, but Portugal plans to appeal for funds from the European Union and European Investment Bank to help recovery.
Football star Cristiano Ronaldo, who was born in a poor district of Funchal and has gone on to become the highest paid footballer in the world, had pledged to support his homeland with a charity match, but his club Real Madrid has reportedly refused to give him permission in case he injures himself.