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Samba groups open Rio carnival

Samba groups in Rio de Janeiro have opened two days of carnival parades with a dazzling show that included a rousing welcome for one of the elite bands that lost most of their elaborate costumes and floats in a fire last month.

The Portela group made a dramatic entrance into the throbbing Sambadrome stadium, with its 300-strong percussion section abruptly quieting its thundering drums and crouching down in a moment of silence for its losses in the fire.

After silence descended over the crowd for a few seconds, the drummers leaped back up with a raucous beat as Portela's thousands of members marched on to the cheers and applause of fans.

"Our community looks beautiful tonight," Portela president Nilo Figueredo said. "It is really a community of warriors."

The fire in early February ripped through the warehouses where Portela and two other elite samba groups were preparing for the carnival, incinerating more than 8,000 feather and glitter costumes and many of the meticulously-decorated floats.

Portela had 3,255 outfits destroyed or severely damaged and it was feared the group, which has not missed a parade in its 84-year history, would not be able to put on a show at all.

Police have concluded their investigation and found the fire was accidental. Nevertheless, it wiped out months of work by the residents of Madureira, Portela's working-class home base.

Hundreds of people from Madureira mobilised to remake what was lost, and the community centre put aside classes and health services to focus entirely on rebuilding the costumes.

"Everyone contributed in whatever way they could: they glued parts of the costumes, swept the floor or just bought food and drinks for the others," said Val Carvalho, head of Portela's social projects. "The fire only took our costumes, not our love for Portela."

The two nights of lavish carnival parades that began on Sunday are watched by millions in Brazil and abroad.

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