Samba school Salgueiro was crowned champion of Rio's fiercely competitive Carnival parades on Wednesday, knocking off a powerhouse rival and overcoming a shooting that left three dead outside its headquarters just months ago.
Salgueiro's parade theme centered on the history of the drum and its importance to music in various cultures. An army of 4,100 marched alongside ornate floats featuring prehistoric beasts ridden by cavemen.
The school scored 399 points out of a possible 400 to win its ninth title and first since 1993. In second place with 398 points was Beija-Flor, which had won five of the previous six years and edged out Salgueiro in 2008.
"It's a huge win. Salgueiro really needed this victory," said a crying school president Regina Celia Duran. "Salgueiro is a family, and we are now all very happy."
Brazilians spent hours glued to their televisions, screaming in joy and groaning with disappointment, as judges announced scores for the schools' floats, costumes and how well they moved through the half-mile Sambadrome stadium.
Thousands jammed each school's headquarters, most of which are housed in Rio's hardscrabble outskirts. At Salgueiro in the Tijuca neighborhood, fans decked out in the school's red and white colors hugged, jumped up and down and cried in disbelief as their win became clear.
Schools spend upward of $2.5 million to create lavish 80-minute parades. A win brings a trophy, possible sponsorships and bragging rights — but no cash.
Authorities were on the alert for any violence, after three people were injured in a shooting last year during celebrations in front of Beija-Flor's headquarters.
Violence has in the past hit samba schools, whose funding is often suspected of being tied to illegal lotteries.
In December, a gunfight outside Salgueiro ended with two security guards and a bystander dead. No suspects were caught, and the motive for the attack is unknown. During Carnival 2007, a vice president of the school was shot dead outside headquarters.
Last week, more than 40 young tourists were robbed by armed men who invaded two hostels. There were scattered reports of at least 15 other foreigners being mugged.
Rio's Carnival officially ended Wednesday, but several large parties are still scheduled through the weekend. The top six finishing samba schools get to march again on Saturday in a champions' parade.
Officials had expected nearly 720,000 tourists to flock to the city's Carnival and pump $521 million into the local economy.
The top six finishing samba schools get to march again on Saturday in a champions' parade.
In Brazil's business capital of Sao Paulo, which holds a less celebrated parade, the Mocidade Alegre school was announced as the winner on Tuesday.
Military police used pepper spray to break up a rambunctious party outside the school's headquarters in northern Sao Paulo. Three people were hurt, none seriously.
Source: AP News