15 PEOPLE were electrocuted during a carnival parade in Brazil on Sunday evening when a severed power line landed in a float packed with revellers.
The cable instantly electrocuted many of those on board before setting the float on fire and then ricocheting onto the ground striking more bystanders who were surrounding the vehicle.
The tragedy happened during the annual pre-carnival festivities in the small town of Bandeira do Sul in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais.
A local police officer said the incident happened as the float made its way around the main square which was packed with revellers participating in the traditional celebration that attracts visitors from across the region to the town of 5,300 inhabitants.
There were various conflicting eye witness reports being carried by local media organisations as to what caused the tragedy.
Several witnesses said that the cable had been cut after being hit by a firework. Others claimed the line exploded after being touched by a fancy dress prop being carried by one of the passengers on board the float, with a third report saying the power line fell after the float struck the pole holding it up.
“At the moment the cause is just a matter of speculation and we will have to await the outcome of the investigation which will take up to 10 days,” said the police officer, who could not be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Witnesses said they saw people in flames jumping three metres from the top of the float into the crowd below.
“I saw many people in convulsions, people passed out and others with their flesh burnt. I used to be a police officer and I tried to help as best I could, but in some cases there was nothing more to do.
“It was a scene from a war: dead spread out on the ground and a lot of people injured, others running in desperation, crying, getting sick,” Luiz Roberto da Silva told the Estado de Minas newspaper.
Emergency services carried the injured to hospitals in nearby cities.
“So far there are 15 confirmed deaths and 56 people being treated for injuries.
“Though some of these are serious none are grave and all are expected to recover,” said Ademir Luis Correa, a police officer in the neighbouring city of Poço de Caldas, where most of the victims were taken for treatment.
Pre-carnival street parties like the one in Bandeira do Sul have experienced a revival across Brazil in recent years.
They typically involve boisterous crowds following samba troupes or floats blasting out music as they make their way around towns.
This weekend in Rio de Janeiro close to half a million people followed samba “blocos” through the streets as the city prepared for its annual carnival celebration.