Rio Carnival 2011: Fire destroys costumes, floats and parade dreams

A fierce fire ripped through Rio de Janeiro's "Samba City" Monday, destroying the costumes and floats of at least three of the city's biggest samba schools weeks before the country's annual Carnival festivities.

The fire, which caused an estimated 10 million reais ($5.95 million) of damage, appeared to send the dreams of thousands of the city's dancers, designers and musicians up in smoke. Many had spent close to a year preparing for the two-day parade.

"I'm in a state of shock. The penny hasn't dropped yet," a school's artistic director, Cahe Rodrigues, told the Guardian. He said the fire destroyed 98 percent of Grand Rio's floats and costumes.

"Our school was gearing up to win Carnival and I don't know if in 29 days we can put on a spectacle on the same level as we had hoped. It's all burned, all destroyed."

The president of a school called Uniao da Ilha broke down on the news show “Good Morning Brazil” today, saying the effort to stage a parade must now “start from zero,” reported GlobalPost's senior correspondent in Brazil, Erik German.

“It’s unfortunate,” the school president said, “But let us never lose our joy.”

Samba schools are more like massive production companies than schools and they spend the year building parade floats, sewing elaborate costumes and choreographing huge performances that become the image of Carnival seen around the world, reports German.

The fire, which investigators suspect was an accident, began around 7 a.m. and lasted for hours. There were no initial reports of serious injuries or deaths.

The fire appears to have virtually destroyed the work of three of the city's 12 biggest samba schools, and it is not clear how they will manage to compete in March's competition.

Nonetheless, Rio's Carnival 2011 and its informal parades around the city as well as street parties will surely go on.

“The fire burned everything,” president of Academicos do Grande Rio, Helio de Oliveira, told The New York Times, “but it didn’t burn our Carnival spirit.”

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