By Rodrigo Viga Gaier
RIO DE JANEIRO, March 5 (Reuters) - If the hangovers many are nursing after their annual Carnival celebrations weren't enough, residents of Rio de Janeiro awoke Wednesday to smelly streets, mounting household garbage and heaps of party refuse uncollected for a fifth consecutive day.
The result of a trash collectors' strike timed to coincide with the festival, which officially ended Wednesday, the growing garbage backlog is a fetid after note to revelry that this year drew as many as 5 million people to the streets of Brazil's second-biggest city.
By disrupting the city's ability to handle basic hygiene during a routine, if big, event, the strike poses yet another possible problem for Brazil just three months before Rio and 11 other cities host the soccer World Cup.
The event is expected to attract 600,000 foreign visitors, not to mention the millions of Brazilians who will be watching the events live, in host cities and bars and living rooms nationwide.
Already grappling with construction delays, security questions and logistical problems before the World Cup, and Rio's hosting of the Olympics just two years later, local authorities are struggling to explain why they have been unable to clean up after more than 400 street parades and block parties since Friday.
"We are working to normalize operations," Vinicius Roriz, the president of Rio's municipal trash company, told reporters on Wednesday, noting ongoing negotiations over salary demands made by strikers.
Many of the collectors are still on walkout, and some of the more restive workers having already been fired. The company said it was unable to say how soon the rubbish might be cleared. Even after any agreement is made, Roriz said, it would still take three days to clean up.
The strike has turned many of Rio's most popular and exclusive neighborhoods into garbage dumps.
In Flamengo, a seaside neighborhood home to some of the biggest Carnival celebrations, a major road known as the "aterro," or landfill because it was built on reclaimed wetland, came to embody the original sense of the word in recent days. Plastic, paper and metal have been piled in its multiple traffic lanes.
Beaches in Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, upscale districts further south, are also strewn with litter, while residential streets and popular tourist thoroughfares are overflowing with stuffed trash cans and stinking heaps of refuse that doormen no longer have room for inside their buildings.
"It's chaos," said one doorman early Wednesday. "We have nowhere left to put all this garbage." (Writing by Paulo Prada; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)