By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Since 1996 residents of Rio have marked the arrival of the Christmas season with the official lighting up of the floating Christmas tree on the Lagoa in Zona Sul (South Zone). However strong gusting winds on Friday November 20th were blamed for snapping the structure in half and its inauguration has now been postponed with no new date chosen.
The lights were due to be switched on Saturday November 28th, but Backstage, the company responsible for constructing the tree and organizing the opening event, have not confirmed it will be ready.
The company said on Monday November 23rd that it was awaiting an engineering and technical report before it could announce the next steps in repairing the tree and finding a new date for its inauguration.
No injuries were caused but the incident is also being investigated by the Port Authority as the floating tree is considered to be a vessel. Over the weekend a team of thirty men were working 24 hours a day to straighten it.
Wet weather has delayed progress and there have been worries about the strength of the crane deployed to hoist the broken parts of the structure. Backstage have said that the machinery is suited to removing the material and began lifting debris on Monday.
The damage was caused in the early hours of Friday morning. “After two gusts of wind, we heard a loud noise. We thought initially that the roof of our houses had been pulled out,” said Paulo Marins, a fisherman based near the site where the Christmas tree is stationed.
Strong winds are thought to have been responsible for the damage but the National Institute of Meteorology registered wind speeds of only thirty kilometers per hour at the time of incident, which is considered only moderate leading passers-by to speculate about the reason for the collapse. “We have witnessed stronger winds in other years, but the tree has never been affected,” said Alexandre Oliveira.
Twice included in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest floating tree in the world, the Lagoa Christmas tree stands at eighty-five meters tall, the equivalent of a 28 storey building. It floats on an 810-meter base, constructed out of eleven twelve-meter long metal pieces that are three meters wide and weigh between twelve and sixteen tons each.
This year is the twentieth edition of the floating Christmas tree. Sponsored by Bradesco Seguros, its theme was due to be the renewal of life and the structure was being decorated with lights showing raindrops, plants, flowers and a map of the world. Rio was to feature prominently as the host city of the 2016 Olympics.
The turning on of the Christmas-tree lights is the third biggest public event in Rio’s calendar after Carnival and New Year’s Eve. Residents and tourists flock to the area to see it light up and to watch singers and performers put on a show on the shores of the Lagoa.
The road blocks and large numbers of people who come to the event often disrupt parking and traffic in nearby streets for locals. “Residents of the neighborhood thank the wind,” wrote one jokingly on Facebook.