Truck accident mars Brazil's joyful Rio carnival

People try to move a parade float after an accident during the carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Feb 26, 2017.
People try to move a parade float after an accident during the carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Feb 26, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS
A man is assisted after an accident during the carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Feb 26, 2017.
A man is assisted after an accident during the carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Feb 26, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
A photographer is assisted after an accident during the carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Feb 26, 2017.
A photographer is assisted after an accident during the carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Feb 26, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - A huge float carried by an out-of-control truck struck at least 20 people celebrating carnival in Rio de Janeiro, causing serious injuries at the start of an all-night dance-off on Sunday.

The truck was at the tail end of the Paraiso do Tuiuti samba school parade in the city's Sambadrome when the accident occurred during heavy drizzle.

It drove too close to a fence at the entrance to the competition piste, leaving several people unable to escape. Three were seriously injured, including a woman news photographer who had a leg badly crushed.

The truck was topped with one of the extravagant floats that symbolise the world's most famous carnival.

Of the 20 people injured in the accident "eight were sent to hospital in ambulances," including three severely injured women, the Health Secretary of Rio de Janeiro's office said.

But despite the casualties and pools of blood on the rain spattered ground, the party soon got back in swing.

Brazilians living through two years of steep recession and nearly 13 per cent unemployment have grasped this year's carnival as a chance to let off steam. In Rio especially, the thrill of hosting the Olympics six months ago has given way to the grim reality of rising crime and near bankruptcy of the state government.

There were intense cheers around the packed stadium of 70,000 people the moment that drumming began to thunder up from the piste.

Samba queens dressed in sequined micro-costumes and vast feathered headdresses danced at dizzying speed. Behind them came armies of drummers and costumed dancers, interspersed by the floats.

Each school picks a theme for its parade and is judged according to strict criteria. More schools were to parade on Monday night, with the champion being announced on Wednesday, the start of Lent in mostly Roman Catholic Brazil.

The most daring parade was from the samba school known as Imperatriz Leopoldinense, which chose the destruction of Brazil's majestic Amazon rainforest as its theme.

Schools typically pick politically safe themes, often paying homage to Brazilian musicians. Paraiso do Tuiuti, for example, honoured the 50th anniversary of the "Tropicalia" musical movement.

But Imperatriz Leopoldinense waded into the debate over indigenous rights, agribusiness expansion into once pristine lands, and the future of the ever more under pressure Amazon.

Floats included portrayals of the jungle, indigenous musicians, piles of skulls and a giant head of a crying indigenous man, crushed by a log the size of a bus.

Members of real native tribes were joining the parade to raise awareness about their plight.

"This parade is incredibly important," said Leticia Campos, 35, who was participating in a tight green costume with bright red wings, representing the forest on fire.

"People here never pay attention to the Indians when in fact they are the masters of the rainforest and it was stolen from them."

The parade has infuriated members of the powerful agribusiness sector, which is frequently accused of being a major contributor to global warming through logging and cattle ranching.

The Brazilian Association of Cattle Breeders called the parade "unacceptable." The rice industry lobby warned of "damage to the country."

Rio is Brazil's carnival capital. Tourism officials told Globo newspaper Sunday that as many as 1.5 million tourists have descended on the city, the best result in eight years, injecting some three billion reais (S$1.3 billion) into the local economy.