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A woman dressed up as "Catrina", a Mexican character also known as "The Elegant Death", takes part in a Catrinas parade in Mexico City. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

(reuters_tickers)

By Dayann Burbano and Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Dancing devils, towering skeletons and altars festooned with marigolds will make their way down Mexico City's main thoroughfare on Saturday afternoon to commemorate Day of the Dead in a country still mourning nearly 500 people killed in earthquakes last month.

More than 700 performers have prepared for months for the colourful procession along more than 4 miles (7 km) of the expansive Paseo de la Reforma.

The two destructive earthquakes in September prompted some late changes to the program.

At an elaborate altar along the route, performers will pay tribute to those who died in the tremors. There is also a float with the figure of a fist embodying the idea of "Fuerza Mexico" (Be Strong Mexico), the mantra that emerged as rescuers searched for survivors from the second quake, on Sept. 19, which toppled dozens of buildings and killed nearly 230 people in the capital.

But the strongest earthquakes in more than three decades are not expected to diminish a centuries-old Mexican tradition. Participants and onlookers alike will paint their faces as colourful skulls, many in the style of Mexico's iconic skeleton figure known as "La Catrina."

Sponsored by Mexico's tourism and culture ministries, the parade is triple the size of last year's maiden effort, inspired by a Day of the Dead parade featured in the opening sequence of the 2015 James Bond film "Spectre."

Hours before the parade started, several hundred people gathered to don fanciful costumes and makeup, including a skeleton cupid on rollerblades, a marching band wearing skeleton face paint, and women in traditional Mexican dresses.

Shelves held rows of devil masks and baskets of marigolds.

Three young women wore La Catrina-style face paint, large feathered hats and 1900s-style dresses that they said had been used in "Spectre."

This year's festivities took on a new feeling of solidarity after the deadly earthquakes, they said.

"We're not only here to celebrate and dance, but also when there's a disastrous situation, we come together to help," said Violeta Canella Juarez, 31.

Some 200,000 people attended last year, and at least twice as many are expected on Saturday, a spokeswoman for Mexico's tourism board said. A spokeswoman for production company Anima Inc, which is organising part of the parade, estimated as many as 1 million people could turn up.

Mariachi musicians will belt out Mexican folk songs while riding in a float covered with flowers like the boats that cruise the canals in southern Mexico City.

Although Mexicans typically celebrate Day of the Dead on Nov. 2 in town plazas, homes and cemeteries, the Bond film's popularity prompted Mexico City officials to put on a carnivalesque spectacle. Even so, the event's organizers say the parade is not about emulating a Hollywood production.

"The point of this parade is to celebrate life," said Anima founder and Artistic Director Alejandra Gonzalez Anaya. "It's to put on the radar of Mexicans an important tradition ... so we feel proud of showing something so important from Mexico to the world."

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Dayann Burbano; Editing by Dave Graham, Mary Milliken and Lisa Von Ahn)

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