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Flights cancelled as wind lashes Portugal’s Madeira island

Dozens of flights in and out of the Portuguese holiday island of Madeira were cancelled on Sunday due to strong winds, stranding thousands of passengers, airport officials said.

Twenty-four flights which were scheduled to take off from the island’s Cristiano Ronaldo airport were scrubbed, as were 24 that were due to land, Portugal’s airport operator ANA said.

The cancellations affected around 5,500 passengers, an ANA spokesman at the airport near Funchal, the capital of Madeira, told public television RTP.

Six flights were diverted to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo and passengers made their way by boat to Madeira, he said.

Passengers formed long lines in front of flight counters to get information or sat on the floor of the packed airport while the waited for news.

Many complained that they were being rebooked on flights scheduled to depart at the end of the week.

Wind gusts of up to 75 kilometres (45 miles) per hour lashed Madeira, which lies in the Atlantic some 1,000 kilometres southwest of Lisbon, according to the national weather office.

The winds are only expected to die down on Monday afternoon.

The airport is recognised by pilots as one of the most difficult to land at in Europe due to its proximity to mountains and the ocean.

Part of the runway extends out over what was once a beach and is supported by columns that lift it above the ocean.

The airport was renamed earlier this year after Real Madrid’s Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, who was born in Madeira.