Rio's Carnival ends, street sweepers replace bands

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2011 5:16 PM
Rio's Carnival ends, street sweepers replace bands

Cleanup crews replaced raucous street bands Wednesday and exhausted revelers took a break from dawn-to-dawn parties as Rio wrapped up one of its biggest Carnival celebrations with the choice of the Baija-Flor group as this year's samba champion.

The pre-Lent celebrations that began Friday attracted 250,000 more people than expected, bringing an estimated $500 million in revenue to the seaside city that will host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

First-time visitors to the never-ending revelry were exhausted.

"I didn't realize it would literally go on all the time," said Rosie Wigmore, a 19-year-old visitor from Brighton, England, who tried to veer off the Carnival path and visit an art gallery, only to be swept up in yet another street band's entourage.

"You would never have this in England," she said. "If you had this many people, and everyone drinking, you'd have fights."

A final 20 or so street parties were planned around town Wednesday, in a slight bending of tradition, which dictates that Carnival end at noon on Ash Wednesday.

About 450 street bands paraded this year, the Rio tourism department said. It said the city had an estimated 1 million visitors, above the expected 750,000. About 40 percent of them were foreign.

With free-for-all street parties winding down, Rio residents turned their attention to the samba parade competition. In a city where allegiances to Carnival groups runs deep, rivaling residents' dedication to football teams, the announcement of this year's winner for best overall presentation in the two-day parade was eagerly awaited.

Fans gathered in the groups' home bases, in communities and shantytowns spread around Rio. When the judges tallied the points for each group and announced Beija-Flor took first place _ its 12th _ the group's following erupted in cheers and tears, kicking off a celebration that would last into the night.

Their theme this year honored the Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos, a star with such pull in Brazil that his entrance into the Sambadrome right before dawn Tuesday set off a standing ovation by the crowd, which waited through heavy rain to see him.

The groups are judged on categories ranging from the quality of the year's theme song and the performance of the percussion section to how well they are able to keep thousands of participants moving, dancing and singing in unison.

Beija-Flor, with nearly 4,000 performers, had small glitches in its procession, but the overall presentation impressed judges who gave them nearly perfect scores in other categories.

Three elite samba groups heavily affected by a warehouse fire a month ago were allowed to parade without competing, so as to not to risk landing in last place, which would automatically demote them to a lower league of competitors.