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Katrina Victims in Thoughts of Rio Carnival Revelers

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As the residents of Rio De Janeiro celebrate Carnival, some taking part will remember the people of New Orleans... who are marking Mardi Gras while recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

In Brazil this weekend, hundreds of thousands of revelers will sing Samba and sip libations for the opening of Carnivale, the four-day festival leading up to Lent. From Rio de Janeiro, NPR's Julie McCarthy has this behind-the-scenes look at some of the lavish preparations.

JULIE MCCARTHY reporting:

10,000 plumes sown to one show-stopping gown; floats with waterfalls four stories high; enough costume material to cover the parade ground a hundred times over. Carnivale is created inside this new multi-million dollar complex near Rio's docks, where the street signs announce Samba City.

This workshop buzzes with carpenters, electricians and seamstresses racing against the clock and money to turn mundane materials into magic. Carnivale provides full-time employment for hundreds of people six months out of the year. Decorator Jorge Enrique(ph).

Mr. JORGE ENRIQUE (Decorator): (Foreign spoken)

MCCARTHY: It's a coveted job, he says, but the people do it as much for love as money. They weave their gossamer dreams and parade seams under tight secrecy. It's not giving away too much to say that flesh is not the only thing on parade. Politics is also on display, with floats this year about environmental disputes and Latin American unity, a theme Venezuela helped finance.

Some 50,000 marchers will strut down this loudspeaker-lined concrete runway a half a mile long before judges and 70,000 spectators. The 14 Samba schools on parade represent some of the poorest, most dangerous communities in Rio. That hasn't stopped corporate sponsors vying to associate with them. The Samba schools began to organize in the 1930's, and what started as homespun fun is today big business.

Box seats sell for as much as $1,000, and Rio expects a half a billion dollars in revenues. And while the elite meet at exclusive masquerade balls, street parties with their improvised costumes are sweeping through neighborhoods. Claudia Curie(ph) says they are a better by than the Sambadrome.

Ms. CLAUDIA CURIE (Brazil): It's so difficult to buy the tickets. It's expensive. And we like street Carnivale. It's very, very popular here in Rio.

MCCARTHY: Back at the warehouse, cloaked in secret, the Samba school portello puts the finishing touches on a unique contribution to this year's Carnivale. The school which closes the competition Monday night will feature a float dedicated to victims of Katrina.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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