The Rio Samba schools Grande Rio, Uniao da Ilha and Portela have had just three weeks to rebuild their carnivals. The huge fire in the City of Samba, Rio de Janeiro, destroyed their carnival preparations on 7th Feb, a month before Rio carnival. A detailed report has been shown on the TV program 'Fantastico', showing how Grande Rio has been working to recover in time for Carnival, with just a few days to go.
The Grande Rio carnavalesco Cahê Rodrigues says that the school was 98% ready for carnival before the fire. But on 7th February, 28 days before carnival, everything was totally destroyed. Uniao da Ilha lost all of their costumes but managed to save some of the floats, in need of repair but not of a total rebuild.
9th February - Grande Rio and Uniao da Ilha had moved into space in an empty warehouse in the City of Samba. Grande Rio had lost all of their floats and equipment, and they started looking to borrow spare float frames, tools and machines. Both carnavalescos have had to completely redesign their carnival parades into something that might be achievable with the limited time and resources available.
Friday 10th of February - lorry loads of donated materials are arriving for Grande Rio, but there is still a huge amount missing. Cahe is trawling the carnival shops in Rio, seeing what material is still available, trying to work how to make it work on the new floats and costumes. On the same day Uniao da Ilha's surviving floats move into a space prepared for them in the middle of the Cidade do Samba, for Grande Rio to have some space to start all their floats again from scratch.
Sat 11th Feb - The new barracao is full of volunteer workers. The search for materials continues. Other samba schools have donated the basic metal framework for several floats. It begins to seem possible for Grande Rio to put on a real carnival parade.
Tuesday 15th Feb - Work starts on the sculptures for the floats. First for Grande Rio is the witch on the opening float, which was to stand around nine meters high. The original witch had been scowling. The new one is smiling - no point in crying at this point, and Carnival is happiness. The floats start to rise. Cahe wants to recreate eight floats, in 3 weeks! Some will be smaller versions of the lost originals. The fourth float was an enormous bull; it will still be a bull, but smaller.
Friday 17th Feb (18 days before the parade) - The metal substructures of the floats continue to be built up. The form of the witches cauldron is completed in wood. A tower is installed to carry the sculpture of the witch. Alas are redesigned. One ala had 100 revellers dressed as different fishes, now they will have fish hats, with robes and clothing to represent the water.
Sunday 20th Feb (12 days before the parade) - the float of the bull already has its head. The cauldron is being decorated. Grande Rio is off to its final technical rehearsal in the sambodromo. Many of the people who have been working flat out on the rebuild will be in this rehearsal. It should be very emotional.
Tuesday 15th February - The opening float now has a motor. Many of the replacement costumes are already made.
Friday 25th Feb - The float of the Hercilo Luz bridge is almost complete and has had its neon lights installed. The witch on the opening float has gained her hat. "in less than a month we have reconstucted a carnival that seemed to be lost. "Grande Rio won't be given points this year, but I think it deserves ten out of ten for effort" says Cahe Rodrigues.
Rebuilding their carnivals: Grande Rio, Portela and Uniao da Ilha
The three schools affected by the fire in the city of samba are working frantically to rebuild their carnivals.
Grande Rio - Lost all of its floats and community costumes - presumably this means that at least some of the commercial costumes (the most luxurious) were kept elsewhere. They still have to produce 3,000 costumes, and are working 20 hours a day. Everyone is helping, fans, directorrs and even their Porta Bandera. Giant sculptures are being replaced. Grande Rio has been moved into a temporary work space in barracao 7 in the city of Samba. Their president reckons that they will be able to parade five floats in carnival, all of which will have been built from scratch since the fire. But Grande Rio has plenty of resources.
Uniao da Ilha has already managed to reconstruct its float 'Arranha. 14 people have been working on it around the clock. The metal frame of the float was damaged in the fire, but it has been repaired. Their floats are squeezed into barracao 7 alongside Grande Rio's
Portela is remaking its costumes in the barracao of its childrens samba school, Portelinha, and its floats in the square in the centre of the Cidade do Samba.The president plans to put on a full carnival parade, but there are problems sourcing materials, especially those that have to come from afar.
A lot more care is being taken over fire precautions now in the City of Samba, with firemen working in pairs in constant inspections of the areas at risk.
Portela fans are up in arms. The league of samba schools has decreed that the three schools affected by the fire in the city of samba will be neither judged or demoted. But a large and vociferous portion of Portela participants want their samba school to be judged this year, despite the fire.
Portela has won more carnivals than any other samba school. They're also one of the oldest, and in 80 - odd years of paticipation, they have never failed to be judged. Fans point out that the destruction in the barracao should only affect the marks for the floats and costumes. The other 8 sets of marks should be unaffected.
Thousands of people have been working on their performances for months. Bateria, porta bandeira and mestre sala, and the comissao da frente have been perfecting their routines - which will be the same even with simpler costumes. The Samba enredo (song) is unaffected. The theme can still be expressed and the harmony and evolution of the school during the parade is not affected. If anything, people may be able to show more energy in the parade without the big, heavy costumes.
The enormous fire that devastated the barracaoes of Grande Rio, Portela and Uniao da Ilha has destroyed more than the costumes and floats.
Grande Rio's barracao was completely gutted. The samba school had recently opened a VIP restaurant there with the latest in modern kitchen equipment. Most of the trophies that the samba school had won were also in the barracao, along with computers, photos, movies, and much of the school's collection of historical records. Works of art, quality furniture (from Paris) and a hydromassage pool also went up in flames. And as well as almost all of the costumes for this year over 300 special masks, sent from New York to complete the bateria costumes, were also destroyed.
The samba school directors reckon that at least 15 million R$ of property were destroyed in the fire.
The massive fire in the city of samba affected 3 samba schools. Grande Rio had everything destroyed, floats, costumes, the lot. Uniao da Ilha managed to save most of their floats, but lost all of their costumes. Portela has also lost its costumes, but its floats weren't ready so less has been destroyed.
Big fires are a frequent problem before carnival. Costumes and floats are highly inflamable, and there's lots of welding and other electrical work going on. But there's never been a fire before that devastated three schools at the same time.
The league of samba schools has responded by changing the rules this year. Grande Rio, Uniao da Ilha and Portela will parade, but will not be judged, And no school wil be demoted (two will go down next year). The Rio Town hall has made money available to the three schools to reconstruct a parade, although last I heard, this money hadn't yet arrived.