RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Adson Amazonas gazed with well-earned pride at the monstrous black and polka dot spider looming over him.
The 34-year-old and his fellow workers had to build the complex model not once, but twice, after it was ravaged by a fire last month that seemed to turn the Carnival dreams of three of Rio de Janeiro’s top 12 samba groups to ashes.
Three weeks on, just days before the annual party kicks off on Friday, a combination of community spirit, innovation and 20-hour working days have just about got the three groups in shape to parade through Rio’s Sambadrome stadium this weekend.
Still, officials with the so-called samba schools admit that their parades will lack much of the usual brilliance and luxurious touches that wow the crowds and win them marks with the competition judges.
Carnival spirits this year have been dampened by the tragedy of the fire and a far worse incident on Sunday when 15 revelers were electrocuted and killed by a fallen power cable in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais.
“We had to start from zero, pay for everything again,” said Danyllo Gayer, one of the founders of the Grande Rio group that was worst affected, losing thousands of costumes and all of the intricate floats that tell the parade’s story, or “enredo.”
“If it had happened three months before Carnival we could have made it, but just 20 or so days before, no,” he added.
Among the expected highlights of this year’s festival of excess that draws about three quarters of a million visitors to Rio are appearances on parade floats by Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, who will pose as ancient Greek sculpture Venus de Milo, and local singing legend Roberto Carlos.
Celebrities jostling for space in the coveted VIP boxes overlooking the Sambadrome action will include actors Pamela Anderson, Jude Law and -- according to some reports -- Leonardo DiCaprio, plus a host of Brazilian soccer stars.
Carnival street parties, known as “blocos,” have shown no shortage of enthusiasm in recent days. City officials complained of organizational problems after “flash mobs” rallied through social networking sites like Twitter swelled pre-Carnival parties to record numbers last weekend in the Ipanema and Copacabana beach areas.
The blaze on February 7, the worst in recent Carnival history, caused millions of dollars in damage and forced the three schools to move into makeshift barracks. Grande Rio’s floats will be around half their normal size and thousands of hastily remade costumes are likely to lack their normal luster.
Amazonas, a worker with the Uniao da Ilha school who comes from Brazil’s tropical forest state of the same name, was putting the final touches on the spider, which boasts moving legs that will be operated by 14 people inside its body.
“Everyone was devastated because the spider is our main piece, it’s our calling card,” said Amazonas, a specialist in constructing the moving parts of Carnival floats who spends about six months each year working toward Rio’s Carnival.
Eduardo Alffonso, another worker with Uniao da Ilha, reckoned the parade should be at about 80 percent of its normal standard thanks to the long days that he and other paid workers and volunteers had been putting in.
“It’s still going to be a brilliant parade. No one is talking about the fire, everyone just wants to put on a beautiful Carnival,” he said.
Editing by Todd Benson and Eric Beech