Fire throws Rio's Carnival preparations into chaos
Rio de Janeiro's Carnival preparations were thrown into chaos after a fire destroyed thousands of costumes less than a month before Brazil's annual festival of hedonism.
The early morning blaze at the City of Samba complex, where Rio's best Carnival groups spend months preparing their spectacular annual parades, sent thick smoke billowing over the city center as firefighters fought to get it under control.
Three of the 12 top samba groups, or "schools," lost nearly all of their parade materials just weeks before their scheduled parades through Rio's Sambadrome stadium for Carnival, which gets under way on March 4.
Workers entered the complex trying to salvage some of the elaborate floats as 80 firefighters battled the blaze, which was brought under control by mid-morning.
The fire, which caused parts of the building to collapse, destroyed a reported 8,400 costumes and damaged many of the painstakingly crafted floats that are central to the parades. It was unclear how the blaze started.
The Grande Rio samba school said the fire destroyed more than 3,000 costumes that its workers had spent months making and caused about 10 million reais (US$6 million) in damages.
"It's a total catastrophe. Our Carnival has turned to ashes," said Avelino Ribeiro, an official with the group.
Some workers arrived at the center only to break down in tears when they saw their months of passionate work destroyed. No one was reported killed in the fire, which started early on Monday morning, although at least one person was treated for smoke inhalation.
The costumes and floats used in the Carnival parades are made from highly flammable materials such as wood, foam and paper. The sprawling City of Samba complex was completed in 2005 at a cost of millions of dollars partly aimed at avoiding the fires that had hit Carnival preparations in the past.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes held an emergency meeting with Carnival officials and said he was confident that all of the top samba schools would parade, although those badly hit by the fire might not be ready to compete for the annual prizes.
"Unfortunately it's going to be difficult to restore the work of a whole year in 30 days," Paes said outside the smoldering buildings. "But these schools have the hallmark of Rio Carnival -- lots of passion and lots of people involved. Carnival will go on."
He said the rules should be changed this year to ensure no samba school is relegated from the 12-strong top division.
As well as a spectacular party that draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to beachside Rio, the Carnival parades are a deadly serious competition for bragging rights among mostly poor communities.
"Carnival is over for the schools that burned," said Jorge Marques, a resident of a slum overlooking the burning City of Samba.