Fire in Samba City! Carnival Costumes and Floats destroyed

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Sad news is made its way through the world of samba and across Rio de Janeiro on Monday . A fire at Samba City, Rio’s district near the port lands that houses many of the samba schools and the federation that deals with Carnival parades, destroyed the warehouses of 3 samba schools and the head office of the confederation, LIESA. It wasn’t long before samba heads on facebook and twitter were going nuts and people were expressing their shock and sadness. “This is terrible.” and “WHAT!” were common comments in reply to people’s posts on the news. Thousands of costumes, plus floats and sculptures, are gone. “Say it ain’t so” What does this mean for carnival? Rio’s Carnival attracts more than 700,000 tourists annually and pumps $500 million into the city’s economy.

Worst hit was the samba school Grande Rio. Their warehouse was the ‘epicentre’ of the blaze. Tom Phillips from the Guardian newspaper wrote:

For months, the carnival-mad supporters of Grande Rio, one of Rio de Janeiro’s leading samba schools, have been dreaming of victory.

With the city’s world-famous carnival set to begin on 4 March, Grande Rio’s dancers, designers and musicians were widely tipped to win their first ever samba parade contest. Decked in the school’s green and red colours, its website carried the slogan: “We will be the champions. Yes we can!

Cahê Rodrigues, the school’s artistic director said 98% of his school’s floats and costumes had been destroyed. Beyond Grande Rio, União da Ilha do Governador and  Portela were also hit. Globo News reported that 8 400 costumes were destroyed and 4 of the 14 warehouses on the site were damaged.

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Samba City near the Port Lands

Everyone is asking, “now what?” All that work for not?? Will they still compete? And what about the competition? Normally the Samba School that scores the least amount of points falls to division A and the best from division A moves up to ‘Group of Champions’.

By the end of the day, a consensus if not an official decision was being talked about. The schools affected would still parade but there would be no chance of them winning. Liesa and the Presidents of all the schools met in the evening to discuss a change in the rules so no group gets demoted this year (only one comes up from the Group A) and then back to the usual rules for next year. They all want to help out any way they can, even with floats and costume support. Grande Rio, Portela and Uniao da Ilha won’t participate in the points system. Super sad, but the carnaval will go on with full spirit!

The fire destroyed months of work and dreams of a Carnival championship for three samba groups. Losses for one group reached $5.5 million (U.S.). Worse than this, people who work on these floats without end are from normally disadvantaged communities and carnival is the place where they normally strut their stuff, ability and take pride in their work that will be on display to the world. Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes is guaranteeing up to $890,000 in funding for the groups to assure the show goes on. If that funding materializes, it will still be impossible to get everything done on time. Preparation takes about 8 months and carnival starts March 4th with the major parade set for March 6th. While they will still parade, it won’t be the same.

Now the questions into the cause of the fire emerge… Was it arson?? The police have said that arson is not suspected but are keeping the investigation open. People in Rio are saying that someone let a hot glue gun fall or that someone forgot their lunch in the oven while heating it up. With all the tinsel around, it’s not surprising that things caught on fire.

Costumes, Grande Rio in 2010

Costumes, Grande Rio in 2010

In a strange way, this unfortunate event is just more publicity for Rio, and with all the publicity the city has been getting through its traditional image of the “good life,” the upcoming World Cup and the Olympics and the offshore oil discoveries, this can only do good for the city. The solidarity this will create among lovers of samba and carnival will outweigh all the material damage. I can just imagine the tears of emotion flowing as Grande Rio,União da Ilha and Portela go down the avenida in the Sambodromo.

Samba is emotion!

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9 February 2011

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