Spain's Fallas fiesta resumes after COVID hiatus, rain damage

Falla El Charco monument, damaged after heavy rainfall, is seen in Valencia, Spain, September 2, 2021. REUTERS/Eva Manez

VALENCIA, Spain (Reuters) - Heavy rain has dampened the giant paper mache figures lined up for the Fallas festival in the Spanish city of Valencia, but not the spirits of participants eager to celebrate the fiery fiesta after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

The five-day festival, traditionally held in March, was cancelled last year as the COVID-19 pandemic struck Spain. The start of this year's event had to be postponed until Sept. 1 due to many restrictions in place earlier this year.

"Being in the street again is to win the game against COVID, with all the safety measures and working hard so that there are no infections, we hope that the festival makes us regain a little joy," said Jaime Bronchud, one of the organisers.

Masks are compulsory and the fiesta must be over by 1 a.m. With few tourists around, organisers expected little of the usual revelry in the streets, but said getting their Fallas groups back together made for a joyous occasion regardless.

Months of painstaking work go into constructing the "ninots", Valencian for dolls, some reaching soaring heights only to be burned to the ground in an explosive finale. They are made of materials such as wood, plaster and paper mache.

At least one large ninot ensemble collapsed on Tuesday night due to a storm that hit eastern Spain, leaving crushed plaster birds and angels on the ground and baring the damaged wooden structure.

"It's very tough," said fallera Alba Miquel, crying. "With everything that we've been through with the coronavirus, now this fall," she said.

The festival is dedicated to Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Hundreds of sculptures, often satirical effigies of politicians and celebrities, are exhibited for the public to vote on their favourite, with only two saved from the bonfire to join fellow survivors at the local Fallas Museum.

(Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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