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Portela samba school wins Rio carnival with political message

The traditional samba group won for the first time in 33 years, beating the runner up by just 0.1 points. Their performance portrayed the human and environmental cost of the Samarco mining disaster.

The legendary Portela samba school was crowned the winner of Rio de Janeiro's carnival parade on Thursday, ending a 33-year drought for the club. With an elaborate three-story float and 3,400 dancers, Portela won its 22nd trophy while highlighting the destruction of Brazil's national resources.

Though their theme was "Brazil's river life," and featured allusions to native fish and man's relationship to water, it also emphasized the human and environmental impact of the  Samarco mining disaster.

In November  2015, two dams owned by mining company Samarco collapsed near the city of Mariana. The toxic sludge that emerged contaminated not only the local water supply for several towns, but flower into the nearby Rio Doce river, which is turn affects most of southeast Brazil.

Portela's floats depicted fisherman covered in the brown waste, bemoaning not only the health risks created by the disaster but also the loss of their livelihood.

Victory for Portela was extremely tight. With 269.9 points out of a possible 270, it received a score on 0.1 higher than the runner-uo, Mocidade Independente. The win was even more surprising given that their float injured twelve people on  Tuesday when its top level, crowded with dancers, partially collapsed and crashed into the group of revelers on the platform below.

Portela was founded in 1923 in the Madureira neighborhood in the north of Rio, thought to be the birthplace of Samba. It beat out twelve other schools to win the top honors for the first time since 1984.

es/bw (AP, AFP)

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