A police officer looks on as a man is helped across a street during floods in downtown Funchal, Madeira.
Violent rainstorms killed at least 32 people on the Portuguese Atlantic island of Madeira on Saturday, a senior official said, as Lisbon mulled declaring an emergency and seeking European help.
"We already have 32 fatalities and 68 injured, all of them in hospital," Joao Cunha e Silva, the vice-president of the island's government, told the private Sic Noticias television channel.
The Portuguese naval frigate Corte-Real set off from Lisbon on Saturday night with helicopters, a medical team and relief supplies for Madeira, the armed forces said in a statement.
Also en route were two helicopters and two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. A rescue team of 56 gendarmes and 36 firefighters was to depart Lisbon for the island's main city of Funchal on Sunday morning.
Interior Minister Rui Pereira said: "We are studying the possibility of declaring a state of emergency and then seeking help from the European Union."
The island's airport was closed and Funchal mayor Miguel Albuquerque advised residents to stay at home.
The overnight strong winds and heavy rain caused flooding and landslides, particularly in the south of Madeira, a resort island located 900 kilometres southwest of the Portuguese mainland.
Winds exceeding 100kmh, high seas and blocked roads had made things more difficult for emergency services, though weather forecasters said the worst was over for the island, some 500kms from the African coast.
Electricity and telephone networks were severed in many areas.
In Funchal, an elderly woman died when the roof of her house caved in and two others were crushed by a crane, local media reported. Several residents were evacuated from their homes.
"It had been raining since dawn and our hotel was evacuated as it is near a river in the city centre," said Aymeric Payan, a French hotel employee in Funchal.
Portuguese news media said the storms were the deadliest in Madeira since October 1993, when eight people died.
Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, expressing shock, promised support for the islanders.