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‘A Sad Day for All Brazilians’: Fire Engulfs National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro [Updated]

The National Museum of Brazil in Rio.

HALLEY PACHECO DE OLIVEIRA/WIKIMEDIA

On Sunday evening in Rio de Janeiro, after visiting hours, a major fire broke out in the National Museum of Brazil, which houses a vast array of items related to natural history and other disciplines, according to the Rio Times, Reuters, and numerous other outlets.

As of Tuesday morning, The Guardian reported, officials were warning that the fire may have destroyed as much as 90 percent of the collection of  institution, which was founded in 1818. The Rio Times said that the fire had consumed the entire structure, which is located in the city’s Quinta da Boa Vista park. (A running list of reports on the fire and its aftermath follow at the end of this story.)

The museum houses a sprawling collection that includes artifacts and specimens related to botany, paleontology, geology, and archaeology, from ancient Egypt, Greece, and elsewhere, as well as a large scientific library. In total, it reportedly holds some 20 million objects.

Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, wrote in Portuguese on Twitter, that the event marked “a sad day for all Brazilians,” according to the New York Times, and that “the loss of the National Museum collection is incalculable for Brazil.” The Times noted that the oldest human fossil from the region, of a woman referred to Luzia, is also part of the museum’s holdings.

The vice-director for the museum, Luiz Duarte, said in an interview with a local outlet on Sunday night, according to Reuters, that the museum had been poorly funded for years, and that its leadership had recently worked out a deal with a state development bank “for a massive investment, so that we could finally restore the palace and, ironically, we had planned on a new fire prevention system.”

The museum is housed in the Paço de São Cristóvão, which was home to the Brazilian imperial family for much of the 19th century. It moved into the building shortly after the monarchy was deposed in 1889 in a coup d’état that transitioned the country into a republic.

Updates

The Guardian: The cause of the fire was not yet known on Tuesday morning, and investigators were waiting for structural tests to be completed before entering the building.

CNN: On Monday, “protesters took to the street following reports linking the fire with government spending cuts and inadequate maintenance of key infrastructure, including the building’s sprinkler system.

Al Jazeera: Police used tear gas to prevent protesters from entering the burned-out museum.

The New York Times: It’s not yet known which artifacts were destroyed in the blaze, but highlights of the collection included 700 Greco-Roman artifacts, objects that once belonged to Indigenous groups in the country, one of the world’s largest meteorites, and a large bird collection.

The Rio Times: Shortly after the fire started, museum staffers convened at the museum and tried to bring some particularly important pieces, like 40,000 mollusk specimens, to safety. The extent of the rescue operation is not yet clear. Also, officials believe protective casing on some objects may have been able to withstand the fire.

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