National Museum of Brazil Destroyed in Massive Fire
The oldest and most prominent museum in Brazil has been destroyed in a fiery blaze, consuming the majority of its 20 million item archive. The fire began Sunday and raged into the night after the museum was shut down to the public. While there we no reports of injuries, the massive loss to Brazilian culture, science, and history is immeasurable.
Cristiana Serejo, one of the museum’s vice-directors, told the G1 news site “It was the biggest natural history museum in Latin America. We have invaluable collections. Collections that are over 100 years old.”
Luiz Duarte, another vice-director, told TV Globo “It is an unbearable catastrophe. It is 200 years of this country’s heritage. It is 200 years of memory. It is 200 years of science. It is 200 years of culture, of education.”
While the museum had fallen into disrepair in the past few years, it boasted an impressive collection including Egyptian mummies, historic artwork, Greco-Roman artifacts, 12,000 year-old skeletons and some of the oldest fossils in the Americas. Other collections included an extensive bird and botany collection, along with several meteorites that were found in 1784. Flocks of employees, researchers, and academics came to watch the museum, as it continued to smolder as they struggled to hold back their grief.
The destruction of the museum has conjured up the anger of the Brazilian public, with many blaming the lack of federal funding for the building the underlying cause behind the disaster. Presidential candidate Marina Silva said, “Given the financial straits of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and all the other public universities the last three years, this was a tragedy that could be seen coming.”
Firefighters who arrived at the scene were reportedly undersupplied, with many having no water, ladders, or equipment according to Brazilian news agencies. Julia Carneiro told the BBC, “It’s unfortunate but the firefighters were not in a position to do anything, to fight anything.” She continued, “we took the initiative to get in to try and save what we could. We had to break down doors. The soldiers helped us carry things.” Rio’s fire chief Colonel Roberto Raboday told CNN that the nearby hydrants had no water, and that old trucks had to be brought in filled with water from a nearby lake.
In the aftermath, demonstrators gathered at the gates of the museum protesting the massive budget cuts and wanting to enter the museum grounds. Several hundred people attempted to forcibly enter the museum to what remained of the ancient artifacts. They were met with resistance from police, who deployed tear gas to keep the mob back.