Brazilians are mourning the total destruction of the nation’s “Smithsonian”.
A massive fire tore through a an expansive 200-year-old museum in Rio de Janeiro late Sunday, lighting up the night and sending plumes of smoke into the air as firefighters tried to save historical relics from the flames.
The esteemed National Museum in northern Rio, which houses artifacts from Egypt, Greco-Roman art and the nation’s most prized domestic art pieces, was not open at the time.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the fire began. The museum said the blaze began around 7:30 p.m.
President Michel Temer said it was “a sad day for all Brazilians.”
“Two hundred years of work, investigation and knowledge have been lost,” Temer said in a statement discussing the total loss.
According to the museum’s website, it has more than 20,000 items related to the history of Brazil and other countries, and that many of its collections came from members of Brazil’s royal family.
Roberto Robadey, a spokesman for the fire department, said 80 firefighters were working to put out the blaze and that some pieces had been spared.
Robadey said firefighters got off to a slow start because the two fire hydrants closest to the museum were not functioning. Instead, trucks had to be sent to get water from a nearby lake.
Connected to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the museum has expositions that include anthropology, archaeology and paleontology, among others.
The vice director of the museum, Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, said the museum suffered chronic underfunding.
Latin America’s largest nation has struggled to emerge from its worst recession in decades and its infamous flirtation with socialism that has seen once profitable businesses taken over by the government, only to be run into the ground.
The state of Rio de Janeiro has been particularly hard hit in recent years thanks to a combination of falling world prices of oil, one of its major revenue sources, mismanagement and massive corruption.
Just over a month before national elections, even before the flames were put out, the fire was leading to recriminations about dilapidated infrastructure and budget deficits in the city that hosted the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“Unfortunately, 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,” Marina Silva, one of the leading presidential candidates, tweeted.