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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rio's premier Portela samba school was crowned champion samba school on Wednesday, winning its first Carnival parade in 33 years with a spectacular performance that highlighted the environmental importance of rivers.
One of its massive floats recalled the impact the collapse of a tailings dam had on the River Doce in 2015 in what is considered Brazil's worst environmental disaster ever.
The collapse at the Samarco mine, a joint venture between the world's largest mining company BHP Billiton Ltd and the biggest iron ore miner, Vale SA, killed nine people and coated a two-state area with mud and mine waste.
The dazzling costumes of some of Portela's 3,400 dancers created the sensation of running water as they danced along Rio's half-mile Sambadrome parade ground. Others depicted ancient civilizations that emerged on river banks and creatures that live in river waters, including one wing of crawling dancers dressed as alligators.
A panel of judges gave Portela 269.9 points for its parade, just beating out runner up Mocidade Independente for the title.
"It's great. I'm speechless from all the excitement. I want to thank God and my orishas (Yoruba deities)," said Bianca Monteiro, a member of Portela, one of Rio's oldest samba schools founded in 1923.
Though it had not won the Carnival parade since 1984, Portela holds 22 titles, more than any other samba school.
This year's samba parade was beset by accidents: 32 people were hurt when a float crushed spectators against a barrier and the top of another float collapsed throwing off dancers.
Reporting by Pilar Olivares; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Michael Perry