Brazil beauties with nothing for clothing but sequins led Carnaval parades lasting until dawn Sunday as second-division samba groups used a kaleidoscope of colorful dancers and floats to launch the biggest part of Rio's five-day bash.
Led by a two-story golden lion, the samba group Estácio de Sá kicked off the party in a hail of fireworks and roars from crowds waving the flags of their favorite samba groups at the 85,000-seat Sambadrome stadium.
Backlit with a purple neon glow, the towering float was surrounded by scores of dancers in skintight lion costumes and followed by an army of women spinning in gold and red hoop skirts and elaborate headdresses fashioned from crystal globes and feathers.
A tourist dressed up as pirate, marveled at the scene as he swilled beer and tried to hit on scantily dressed young Brazilian women swarming into the stands.
"This is great, the best in the world, alcohol, women, the floats: Everything is perfect."
The parading that didn't end until daylight was only a warm up for bigger competition among the city's top 12 samba schools, which mount 80-minute parades on Sunday and Monday nights to impress a panel of judges and be declared the year's champion.
Among the biggest Carnaval mysteries was the plan for the group Viradouro, forced by a judge last week to redo its Carnaval theme after Jewish group successfully sued and forced Viradouro to remove a float depicting naked holocaust victims with a dancing Adolf Hitler.
The group has said it would rework the float to celebrate freedom of expression, but hid the new float from public view, suspense surrounding how Viradouro will pull off its Carnaval theme: "It Gives You Goose Bumps."
Crowds topping the million mark turned out in the northeastern city of Recife for the traditional Galo da Madrugada, or Dawn Rooster party, on Saturday. And in the city of Salvador, revelers danced behind bands playing Axé music atop huge sound trucks (trio elétricos), and followed hundreds of exotically costumed drummers in Blocos Afros down the streets.
Two girls – ages 16 and 7 – were killed early Sunday and 12 people were injured in the small southeastern city of Sabará, state of Minas Gerais, when a tractor-trailer with a band playing atop hit them during the "Mama Africa" street Carnaval party, the city reported on its Web site. The Web site of the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper said the truck's brakes failed, but the city did not cite a cause.
After two straight days of hot and sunny weather in Rio, rained poured down Sunday and threatened to swamp the parade at night – making it difficult for the samba groups to pull off their elaborately scripted routines with hundreds of dancers and multiple floats as keen-eyed judges rate them on a point system.
But Rio's "blocos," or street parties, didn't stop. While many poor Brazilians can't afford tickets to get into the Sambadrome or squirrel enough money away to buy the costumes they must wear to parade, anyone can join in and samba on the streets.
Jorge Luis, 36, sang on a street corner as four friends used drums to beat out the rhythm. Women strolling by stopped to dance before moving on to the next party.
"This is a party for the people," he said. "You don't have to pay anything; you just dance and sing on the street."