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Video: Death toll rising in Brazil flooding; at least 400 dead

  1. Closed captioning of: Death toll rising in Brazil flooding; at least 400 dead

    >>> we're back. we mentioned news of an unfolding and devastating natural disaster , another one this time deadly floods and mudslides in brazil near rio and the pictures from the scene are at times difficult to watch. at least 400 people have died, and dozens more are missing. tonight, our report from nbc's mark potter .

    >> reporter: floods in the mountains north of rio left in trapped, including this woman and her dog. from a next door building, rescuers threw a lifeline. holding her pet, the woman jumped in, but was overpowered by the current. by clinging to the rope, she survived, but the dog was sucked away. another small town , residents ran into the streets, fearing building collapses. and in this neighborhood, a father is pulled from the rubble. then a cheer breaks outs a his 6-month-old baby is also found, alive. as the death toll climbed into the hundreds, even rescuers were lost. in this town, three firemen were buried by mud as even more heavy rain is predicted. mark

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/13/2011 6:30:04 PM ET 2011-01-13T23:30:04

Search crews found more bodies on Thursday, raising the death toll from the walls of earth and water that crushed homes in recent days to nearly 500 people, local media reported.

Whole families were wiped out in at least five towns in mountains north of Rio de Janeiro, while survivors were left scrambling Thursday to reach still-trapped neighbors.

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Dozens were still missing after the slides hit at about 3 a.m. Wednesday in the picturesque Serrana region after 10 inches of rain — a month's normal rainfall — fell in 24 hours.

More then 13,500 people were made homeless in the region, the Civil Defense agency said.

Most of the deaths were north of Rio, but at least 18 people also died in flooding in Sao Paulo earlier this week.

More rain, possibly heavy at times, is forecast through the weekend.

Some survivors recounted their ordeal while taking shelter Thursday.

"We were like zombies, covered in mud, in the dark, digging and digging" after the slides hit, said Geisa Carvalho, 19, a resident of Teresopolis where dozens died.

A tremendous rumble awoke Carvalho and her mother Vania Ramos as tons of earth slid down a sheer granite rock face onto their neighborhood.

The power was out, but by lightning flashes they could see a torrent of mud and water rushing just a few feet from their home — and the remnants of their neighbors' houses that were swept far down a hill.

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"I don't even have the words to describe what I've seen," said Ramos during a 5-mile hike to the main part of her town in search of food and water. "A lot of our friends are dead or missing. There are people we may never find."

Carvalho and Ramos said they ran out of their home moments after the mudslide and joined neighbors in digging for survivors with bare hands and sticks.

They quickly located a family of four who had died under the rubble of their home — and said another neighbor's 2-month-old baby was washed away in his crib and has yet to be found.

Television footage showed many houses buried in mud as desperate residents and rescue workers searched for survivors.

Video: Mudslides in Brazil leave hundreds dead (on this page)

"There was no way of telling which house would fall. Rich and poor — everything was destroyed," resident Fernanda Carvalho was quoted as saying by the Globo network's website.

Houses turned inside out
Nearly all the homes in their Caleme neighborhood were swept to the bottom of a hill, seemingly turned inside out.

Tangles of plumbing were wrapped in trees, children's' clothing littered the earth, massive trees were tossed about like toothpicks.

A river of water and mud flowed through the streets as a light rain continued to fall Thursday.

Only a few rescuers had managed to hike to Caleme by Thursday and they only had shovels and machetes — not the heavier equipment that may be needed to hunt for survivors.

Residents said they had no food, water or medication, and many made the long walk for help to the center of Teresopolis, about 40 miles north of Rio.

Interactive: Mudslides mapped, explained (on this page)

Hundreds of family members crowded at a morgue Wednesday night waiting to identify bodies.

"It's like an earthquake struck some areas," said Teresopolis Mayor Jorge Mario. "There are three or four neighborhoods that were totally destroyed in rural areas. There are hardly any houses standing there and all the roads and bridges are destroyed."

Dozens also died in the towns of Nova Friburgo, Petropolis, Sumidouro and Sao Jose do Vale do Rio Preto.

"The city is finished," Nova Friburgo resident Carlos Damasio was quoted as saying on the online edition of local newspaper O Globo.

Morgues in the towns were full and bodies covered in blankets were laid out in streets.

President Dilma Rousseff flew by helicopter over the region Thursday. The nation's Health Ministry said it was sending 7 tons of medications to the area, enough to treat 45,000 people for a month, it said.

The death toll was expected to rise as firefighters reached remote valleys and steep mountainsides where neighborhoods were destroyed, Teresopolis's mayor said. About 1,000 people there were left homeless.

"I saw six bodies on my street," said 53-year-old Antonio Venancio, whose house was inundated with mud but still standing. "We just don't know what to do in the face of something so horrible."

'So many disappeared'
"There are so many disappeared — and so many that will probably never be found," said Angela Marina de Carvalho Silva, a resident of Teresopolis who feared she might have lost 15 relatives, including five nieces and nephews.

"There was nothing we could do. It was hell," she said.

Carvalho Silva took refuge in a neighbor's house on high ground with her husband and daughter, and watched the torrential rain carry away cars, tree branches and animals, and rip apart the homes of friends and family.

"It's over. There's nothing. The water came down and swept everything away," said her husband, Sidney Silva.

Television images showed one woman holding a dog in the ruins of her house as powerful floodwaters tore at the remaining walls.

She grabbed a rope thrown by residents from a nearby rooftop and was eventually pulled to safety, but had to drop the dog into the waters to save herself.

About 800 search-and-rescue workers dug for survivors.

In one town, firefighters rescued a 25-year-old man who held his 6-month-old son for 15 hours until they were both pulled out alive. The man's wife and mother-in-law were feared dead.

"I believe the number of dead is much more than was announced so far," Rio state environment secretary Carlos Minc was quoted as saying by Globo television after he flew over the region. "Many people died while they were sleeping."

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"Rescue teams are still arriving in the areas that have been worst affected," he said.

Minc described what he saw as a "striking tragedy," Globo reported. "From what I saw here today I can say [it] is the biggest catastrophe in the history of Teresopolis," he continued.

Deadly flooding and slides earlier this month caused havoc in Minas Gerais state north of Rio, where 16 people died and dozens of communities are in a state of emergency.

Heavy rains and mudslides kill hundreds of people across Brazil each year, especially during the South American summer.

The worst hit are the poor, whose rickety homes are often built on steep slopes with weak or no foundations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Mudslides in Brazil kill hundreds

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  1. A car, dragged inside a church by a mudslide, is seen in Nova Friburgo, Brazil on Friday, Jan. 21. Brazil will create a nationwide disaster-prevention and early-warning system following recent floods and landslides that killed more than 750 people in mountain towns north of Rio de Janeiro, government officials said Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A resident comes down a house destroyed by a landslides, in Nova Friburgo on Thursday, Jan. 20. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A dog from K9 de Creixell, a Spanish organization, searches for landslide victims in a damaged home in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, Thursday, Jan. 20. Deaths from last week's mudslides rose to at least 727 and have left thousands homeless. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A girl receives a container of potable water from a soldier in the landslide-affected Alto Floresta neighborhood in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, on Wednesday, Jan. 19. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Residents salvage items from their homes after a landslide in the Alto Floresta neighborhood of Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 19. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Red Cross volunteers stack donated clothes at a relief center in Teresopolis, state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday, Jan 19. Brazilian officials began moving thousands of people out of at-risk areas near Rio in a flooding disaster that has already left at least 727 people dead. Ten teams of civil defense and environment officials were evacuating residents in outlying areas of Nova Friburgo, the hardest-hit town, said their commander, Colonel Roberto Robadey. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Brazilian National Force rescue workers carry the body of a boy on the scene of a recent landslide, where seven people were found buried among debris in the neighbourhood of Jardilandia, in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, on Jan. 19. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Residents of Sumidouro, one of the mudslide-hit towns north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, unload supplies from a navy helicopter on Tuesday, Jan. 18. Brazil has sent around 700 troops to help areas desperate for aid. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A man cleans up at a fabric store in Nova Friburgo on Monday. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Severely eroded portions of mountains are seen Monday near Nova Friburgo, where dozens died. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A woman cries while holding her newborn baby after being rescued by helicopter from an isolated area near Petropolis on Monday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A house remains standing on Monday even though the rest of the hillside in a rural area north of Rio de Janeiro collapsed. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A few of the thousands of landslide victims rest at a shelter on Monday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Damage to a road near the town of Nova Friburgo is seen Monday. Dozens of people died in the town. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    Rescue workers and residents of Nova Friburgo recover the body of a young landslide victim on Monday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Gravediggers carry the coffin of a victim at a cemetery in Nova Friburgo on Monday. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Isaura Martin dos Santos waits for medical attention at a hospital in Nova Friburgo on Monday. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rescue workers search for victims after a landslide in Nova Friburgo on Sunday. (Ricardo Moraes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Paulo Rodrigues da Silva, left, reacts as he embraces a relative he found at a shelter for people displaced by landslides in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Jan. 16. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Rescue workers climb on a helicopter after searching for survivors and victims in an area affected by a landslide near Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Jan. 16. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. People affected by recent landslides of mud and rock in Teresopolis, Brazil, receive drinking water on Jan. 16. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Ludmila Moura, 5, sits on a mattress at a shelter for people displaced by landslides in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Jan. 16. Ludmila was pulled out of her destroyed house by her father, Marcelo Moura, on the first night of heavy rains last Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Residents flee the Campo Grande neighborhood after the area was devastated by recent landslides of mud and rock, in Teresopolis, Brazil, Jan. 16. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A dog, "Leao", sits for a second consecutive day, next to the grave of her owner, Cristina Maria Cesario Santana, who died in the week's catastrophic landslides in Brazil, at the cemetery in Teresopolis, near Rio de Janiero, on Jan. 15. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Local residents look at partially buried vehicles in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Saturday, Jan. 15, after heavy rains hit Rio de Janeiro for several days. More than 500 people have died due to floods. (Antonio Lecedra / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A resident is reflected in a mirror at a destroyed house in Teresopolis, Brazil, Saturday, Jan. 15. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A house is buried in an area affected by mudslides in Floresta in Nova Friburgo, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 14. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A woman is helped by residents after being rescued from a landslide in Teresopolis, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 14. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Residents stand on safe ground after a landslide in Teresopolis, Friday, Jan. 14. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. People mourn during the burial of a landslide victim in Teresopolis, Friday, Jan. 14. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. An aerial view of a neighborhood partially destroyed by a landslide caused by heavy rains in Nova Friburgo, Jan. 13. Rescue workers dug desperately for survivors on Thursday and struggled to reach areas cut off by raging floods and landslides that have killed hundreds of people in one of Brazil's worst natural disasters in decades. (Shana Reis  / Government of Rio via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A nurse receives medical attention after fainting in front of the police station in which several bodies are being counted after the heavy rains in Teresópolis, Jan. 13. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. People bury victims of a landslide in Teresopolis, Jan. 13. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. 6-month old baby Nicolas Guimaraes s rescued from the wreckage caused by a mudslide in Nova Friburgo, January 12. (Marcus Vini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Rescue team works in the zone affected by a landslide after heavy rains in the city of Nueva Friburgo, Jan. 13. (Jadson Marques / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Roberta Machado Correia, who survived a landslide, attends the burial of a friend in Teresopolis, Jan. 13. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Rescue workers remove a live rabbit as they search for survivors inside a home destroyed by a landslide in Teresopolis, Jan. 13. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A church sits surrounded by debris Wednesday, Jan. 12, after a mudslide hit this area of Teresopolis, Brazil. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Flooded areas Wednesday included this street in Franco da Rocha. (Paulo Whitaker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Areas ripped away by slides are seen Wednesday in Teresopolis. (Fabio Motta / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Rescue workers search for victims Wednesday in a low-income neighborhood of Teresopolis. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Damage in Teresopolis is seen on Wednesday. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Debris lines this street Thursday in the Caleme neighborhood of Teresopolis. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. People stand on the porch of their home in the Caleme neighborhood of Teresopolis on Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Cars like this one in the Caleme neighborhood of Teresopolis littered the mudslide areas on Thursday. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Rescue workers remove debris in their search for victims in Teresopolis on Wednesday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Rain continued Thursday as destruction lined the roads of towns like Teresopolis. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Debris is seen Wednesday in the city of Nova Frigurgo, one of the hardest hit areas. (Bruno Domingos / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    A man reacts as he walks close to bodies among the debris in Teresopolis on Wednesday. (Roberto Ferreira / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. A victim is rescued Wednesday in Teresopolis. (Marino Azevedo / Handout via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Survivors take refuge in a gymnasium in Teresopolis on Thursday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  2. Editor's note:
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  3. Editor's note:
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Interactive: Brazil mudslides

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