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Heiko Maas travels to Madeira after horror crash kills 29 Germans

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he will travel to Madeira on Thursday with a team of doctors and psychologists after 29 German tourists were killed in a bus crash on the Portuguese island.

Heiko Maas travels to Madeira after horror crash kills 29 Germans
Survivors being helped at the scene. Photo: DPA

“It is shocking that an Easter holiday has become a tragedy for so many people,” Maas said in a statement, adding that he will fly to Madeira with medical staff to “speak personally with those affected”.

Separately, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun said consular officials were already on site, and an expert had begun identifying the victims.

The German military's medical evacuation plane was on stand-by and could be deployed to repatriate injured nationals, said Braun.

A decision was to be made later on Thursday on whether the plane would be deployed, he added.

It came as the Portuguese island of Madeira began three days of mourning following the tragic incident.

On Wednesday at around 6.30pm, the bus carrying the holidaymakers spun off the road and tumbled down a slope before crashing into a house.

SEE ALSO: 29 German tourists killed in Madeira bus crash

Drone footage of the aftermath of the accident near the town of Canico showed the badly mangled wreckage resting precariously on its side against a building on a hillside, the vehicle's roof partially crushed and front window smashed.

Rescue workers attended to injured passengers among the undergrowth where the bus came to a halt, some of them bearing bloodied head bandages and bloodstained clothes, others appearing to be more seriously hurt.

Local authorities said most of the dead were in their 40s and 50s. There were 11 men and 18 women were among the victims and all of them were German.

They were among the more than one million tourists who visit the Atlantic islands off the coast of Morocco each year, attracted by its subtropical climate and rugged volcanic terrain.

“Horrible news comes to us from Madeira,” a German government spokesman tweeted after the crash.

“Our deep sorrow goes to all those who lost their lives in the bus accident, our thoughts are with the injured,” he added.

The 50-odd tourists had left their hotel and were on their way to the regional capital Funchal when the accident occurred on Wednesday evening.

Prosecutors have opened a probe and the vice-president of the regional government Pedro Calado said it was “premature” to attribute the cause of the accident, saying the bus was five years old and has been recently inspected.

Rescue workers at the scene. Photo: DPA

'Terrible images'

The injured were “in a state of shock, with memories of terrible images. An injured woman said she had lost her partner,” Ilse Everlien Berardo, the pastor at the German Evangelical church in Madeira, told Germany's RTL network.

He said local authorities were trying to find “people on the island who speak German. Even though the doctors and nurses are tending to the injured with great care and compassion, it's important for the injured to hear their mother tongue,” he said.

A makeshift morgue has been set up at the airport in Funchal, local media reports said. Medical teams will be flown in from Lisbon to carry out autopsies.

German holidaymakers were the second largest group after British tourists to visit the islands — known as the Pearl of the Atlantic and the Floating Garden in the Atlantic — in 2017, according to Madeira's tourism office.

The islands are home to just 270,000 inhabitants.

“I express the sorrow and solidarity of all the Portuguese people in this tragic moment, and especially for the families of the victims who I have been told were all German,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told Portuguese television.

'Profound sadness'

Prime Minister Antonio Costa added on Twitter that he had contacted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to convey his condolences

“It is with profound sadness that I heard of the accident on Madeira,” he wrote on the government's Twitter page.

“I took the occasion to convey my sadness to Chancellor Angela Merkel at this difficult time,” he added.

The last serious bus accident in Madeira occurred in December 2005, killing five Italian tourists in Sao Vicente.

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TRAVEL

Christmas: Is it possible to travel within Germany under new rules?

Is travelling to another federal state allowed during the Christmas holidays?

Christmas: Is it possible to travel within Germany under new rules?
A quiet road in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

Germany is to toughen coronavirus measures from Wednesday December 16th until January 10th. Under the new rules, non-essential shops and schools will close, people can't drink alcohol in public and the sale of fireworks is banned.

From December 24th to 26th, the contact restrictions will be eased slightly. So can you travel to visit people during this time?

Is travel banned?

First of all, travel is not banned. However, the government and states have urged people against travelling unless it is absolutely necessary.

“The federal Government and the Länder (states) urge all citizens to refrain from non-essential travel in Germany and abroad between now and January 10th,” says the agreement.

Non-essential travel includes tourist travel.

The government and states also emphasise that entry into Germany from foreign risk areas means a compulsory 10-day quarantine period. The quarantine can only be ended by a negative test taken at the earliest on the fifth day after entry.

Tests are no longer free in Germany after non-essential travel.

So if you decide to travel somewhere abroad that's a risk zone, keep in mind you'll have to quarantine when you get back.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about travel within Germany (and abroad) at Christmas

What happens if you decide to travel within Germany?

Despite the call to avoid travel, if you decide to go to another German state over the holidays, you must familiarise yourself with the coronavirus regulations of that particular region.

 For those travelling to another federal state, there's also the question of accommodation.

At the moment hotels are only allowed to serve guests who are travelling for essential reasons such as business. Tourist stays are not allowed.

However, some states, including Berlin, Bremen and Hesse said they were to allow relatives visiting family at Christmas to stay in hotels or other overnight accommodation.

At the moment this still seems to be the case in Berlin, Bremen, Lower Saxony,  and Thuringia. Other states are still deciding on this.

Some states, including Bavaria, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg have said they will not allow this.

Berlin mayor Michael Müller, however, emphasised that people must consider not travelling.

“If it is a trip that is not of a tourist nature, then there is also a possibility to stay overnight in the hotels,” he said after a Senate meeting.

“But the starting point is different. Staying at home is the urgent appeal, not travelling around.”

In Müller's view, necessary visits to relatives are different to tourist trips, because the former do not involve sightseeing or shopping.

The situation is subject to change so you must check your local state rules in the coming days, as well as the hotel or overnight accommodation you're thinking about. It would not be a great start to the holiday season if you travel somewhere only to be turned away at the door.

The opening of hotels to relatives is a contentious issue in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel last week slammed the idea of states opening for relatives, saying it was the wrong move and created “incentives” for travel.

READ ALSO: 'A trip home is impossible': How foreign residents in Germany plan to celebrate Christmas

How can you get around?

Travel by car is probably the safest option since you won't come into contact with other members of the public.

If you don't want to travel across Germany by car, there are alternatives: Deutsche Bahn, for example, is making extra trains available. 

A new reservation system also aims to ensure more free seats on trains – and distance between passengers.

The coach company Flixbus is also offering journeys again from December 17th.

Travelling by plane is also still an option although hygiene and distance rules apply at German airports and within planes.

For more information read our story on travel in Germany and abroad during the festive season here. Please also keep up to date with your local coronavirus rules.

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