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Survivors speak out as death toll climbs in Brazilian floods

From Shasta Darlington, CNN
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Brazilian stories of loss, survival
  • NEW: The official death toll in Rio de Janeiro state is 785
  • "I hugged my baby tight. That's the last thing I remember," one survivor recalls
  • An 18-year-old describes taking cover inside a refrigerator
  • At least 24 people have been killed in the neighboring state of Sao Paulo

Teresopolis, Brazil (CNN) -- Leticia Lima was buried up to her neck in mud. Her forehead was crushed and her teeth knocked out.

"I remember my mother shouting, and a loud noise. I hugged my baby tight. That's the last thing I remember," she said, lying bandaged in a hospital bed.

Her baby and her mother didn't make it.

They were among at least 785 people dead after flooding and massive mudslides flattened houses and wiped out entire neighborhoods in hillside towns of Rio de Janeiro state last week.

Delivering aid to flood victims in Brazil
Bodies pile up after Brazil floods
Surveying the damage in Brazil
Gallery: Flooding in Brazil
  • Floods
  • Brazil
  • South America

Other states in the South American country have also seen heavy rainfall. Last week, authorities in neighboring Sao Paulo state said flooding had killed 24 people.

Victims like Leticia Lima repeat stories of loss and survival throughout the Clinical Hospital of Teresopolis, which is in one of the hardest-hit cities.

"On the first day, we treated 178 people in less than 12 hours," hospital director Rosane Rodrigues Costa said.

Liziel Madureira was one of them. He managed to grab his 5-year-old son, but saw half of his family swept away. He went on to save his neighbor and her three children.

"I would do it all again," he said. "What else could I do?"

His 18-year-old daughter, Erica, also survived -- by climbing into a refrigerator.

"It shook and shook," she said. "I opened the door, and it was floating."

She cried as she recounted the experience and said the family was still searching for her mother's body.

As the rains subside, donations are pouring in from around the country. A gymnasium in Teresopolis is packed with stacks of clothing, water, rice and beans.

Residents said they are starting to think about the future.

Erica has hope because she made it this far. But she said she is worried.

She is the only woman left in her family.