Tourists, Portuguese Locals Share Anguish as Cops Hunt for Missing British Toddler

The disappearance of a 3-year-old British girl during a vacation in Portugal's most popular tourist spot has alarmed foreigners and horrified locals, dismaying a country proud of its "brandos costumes," or gentle ways.

The toddler, Madeleine McCann, is believed to have been taken from her hotel room at a resort last Thursday while her parents ate at a nearby restaurant. Six days later, police were still searching for her.

On Tuesday, Manchester United and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo and Chelsea captain John Terry pleaded for anyone with knowledge of McCann's whereabouts to speak up.

"I appeal to anyone with information to come forward. ... Please come forward," Ronaldo told Manchester United TV.

Click here for's Europe center.

Terry said his team was "devastated to hear that young Maddie was abducted."

Click here to see the video.

The anguished wait for news has created a bond between locals and foreigners in the Algarve coastal region, a top European holiday destination renowned for its warm climate and picturesque beaches.

"I feel for what [Madeleine's] parents are going through, as any Portuguese parent can," said Luis Nogueira, 45-year-old manager of a local tennis club who has boys aged 9 and 12.

Local people have joined police in searches of nearby woodland and are saying prayers for Madeleine's safe return at mass in this mostly Roman Catholic country.

Parents of all nationalities have the jitters.

Paula Gama, a 37-year-old Portuguese who owns an Algarve restaurant, has boys aged two, nine and 11. She still allows them to play with customers' children in the fenced-off restaurant garden, but asks her elder sons to keep an eye on their little brother.

"I'm worried," she said. "I take more care with the youngest one now."

Up to 180 local police officers and British detectives sent to help have been working on the investigation, authorities say.

Posters featuring color photographs of Madeleine are pasted in shop windows, bars and cafes, and on lampposts around and beyond Praia da Luz, a vacation town of low, whitewashed buildings about 120 miles south of Lisbon, where she vanished. The appeal to contact police is in English and Portuguese — the two main local languages in the region which receives about 5 million British tourists each year.

Carla Figueiredo, a local civil servant, said foreigners commonly let their children run free, reassured by the hospitable locals.

"Visitors regard the Algarve as a safe place, so they pay less attention to their children," she said.

The last similar case occurred three years ago when an 8-year-old Portuguese girl called Joana disappeared in nearby Portimao. She was never found.

In 1990 a 10-year-old British girl was found slain near an Algarve beach four days after she disappeared from outside her family home. A British man, a local resident, was convicted and jailed for 19 years.

In a local bar Wednesday evening British and Portuguese customers watched two television sets fixed to the walls, one showing Portuguese news and one a British satellite channel. Much of the talk was about whether the local police were doing enough.

"We haven't got much experience in handling this kind of thing because it normally never happens here," the bar owner, 48-year-old Jorge Alexandre, said.

Nogueira, the tennis club manager, said there was not as much police activity when Joana, the Portuguese 8-year-old, went missing.

"Because of the tourism factor there's a huge police effort," he said.

Tourism, which brings 10 million visitors a year, provides the Algarve's main income. The local tourism authority's cancellation of a new marketing campaign for the region, due to be held in London next week, was the first sign that Madeleine's disappearance could hurt the sector.

However, Denise Findlay, a 41-year-old British mother who has set up home in the Algarve, doubted it would tarnish the Algarve's reputation.

"People are going to think twice about bringing their children, I suppose, but those who know the Algarve won't be worried," she said.

Click here for's Europe center.

Sky News contributed to this report.