Madeleine McCann: Search keeps spotlight on resort

Police tape at the search site Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The restricted area around the search site in Praia da Luz remains taped off by police

The first week in the police search for any signs of Madeleine McCann in Praia da Luz is coming to a close and, as yet, there do not seem to have been any major breakthroughs.

Residents, though sympathetic, are keen for their lives to return to normal and for the dozens of British and Portuguese journalists to leave the Algarve resort.

At the 15-acre scrubland close to where she went missing, cameras are filming every development from the ground - and even from the air, with a drone equipped with a tiny camera buzzing overhead to capture images for the press.

It is now expected the operation will carry on for another seven days, instead of finishing before the weekend as had originally been expected.

There will be a brief respite for locals on Monday and Tuesday - a Portuguese national holiday means the 48 police officers taking part in the search will spend that time away from the private land that has been their focus.

'Half empty'

Portuguese families from further up the coast are set to descend upon the sandy beaches of the sleepy seaside resort during the weekend, giving a boost to the tourism industry for which some locals have expressed concern.

Madeleine, from Leicestershire, was three when she went missing while on holiday with her parents in 2007.

Rodrigo Raposo works at Beach Hut Water Sports, which rents out jet skis and organises boat trips for holidaymakers.

He says volunteers scoured the area seven years ago when Madeleine went missing and that Portuguese people feel they have a firm friendship with the British.

Like many others here, he expresses sadness for the McCann family's plight, but fears for the impact on Luz, especially as the search is extended.

"I really believe there's an impact. The beach is half empty today," he says.

"Our numbers of sales are more or less the same but tourism agencies forecast rising numbers for the Algarve this year, with an increase of 6%, they said.

"We're not seeing that in Praia da Luz.

"This is such a nice, peaceful, safe place and (Madeleine's disappearance) is just such a strange thing. It's unbelievable."

Madeleine's face can be seen everywhere here as her image looks out from the front page of UK newspapers, available on the same day due to the huge numbers of British holidaymakers.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Members of Scotland Yard began searching the private piece of land on Monday
Image caption Dozens of journalists are in the resort to cover the search

People talk about the case in The Bull pub, which could be anywhere in the British Isles were it not for the view of the Algarve coast.

Couples who have holidayed here for years discuss the number of journalists in the area and - as they sip their drinks - talk about the way they think Luz is being represented to the outside world.

'More vigilant'

Carla Fernandes, who works at an ice cream shop, agrees it has been the talk of holidaymakers all week.

"People are very curious about what the police are doing but they don't seem to be worried by it," she says.

"They are talking about it all the time. They want to know what we think about the case.

"But I don't think we will ever know what happened."

At Kelly's Bar, Andy Fleck, who lives near Manchester, admits his friends had questioned his choice of holiday destination.

Image caption Madeleine was three when she went missing from an apartment at the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz in 2007

The 36-year-old, sitting at the bar in a Help for Heroes T-shirt, says: "It feels so quiet here - there's no one around. Apparently the next town is busy as anything.

"You'd think you would be safer here though, if anything, because people are going to be much more vigilant."

Carol, the barmaid, says she doesn't think the police operation here is good for the image of Luz. She says she feels for the people in apartments that are next to the search site.

Writing on the Official Find Madeleine Campaign Facebook page on Thursday evening, Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry said: "We are being kept updated on the on-going work in Portugal and are encouraged by the progress.

"Thank you for continuing to stand by us and supporting our efforts to get Madeleine home."

Renewed attention will no doubt begin again on Wednesday with two more sites expected to be searched.

And for the time being, the spotlight continues to be shone on this quiet community.

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