Fire razes Brazil’s National Museum

Brazil
The museum houses thousands of items related to the history of Brazil and other countries PHOTO: REUTERS

A fire has gutted the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, the oldest scientific institution in the country.

Most of the 20 million items it contained, including the oldest human remains ever found in the Americas, are believed to have been destroyed.

The cause of the blaze is not known. No injuries have been reported.

The museum, located in a building that once served as the residence for the Portuguese royal family, celebrated its 200th anniversary this year.

According to BBC, the fire started on Sunday evening after the facility had closed for the day.

Aerial images broadcast on Brazilian television showed it spreading throughout the building.

Brazil’s President Michel Temer said in a tweet that it was a “sad day for all Brazilians” as “200 years of work, research and knowledge were lost”.

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Roberto Robadey, a spokesman for the Rio fire department, is quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying that the hydrants closest to the museum were not working and that firefighters had to get water from a nearby lake.

By Monday morning the fire was under control and some of the museum’s pieces had been rescued, he added.

This isn’t just Brazilian history that’s gone up in flames. Many see this as a metaphor for the city – and the country as a whole.

Rio de Janeiro is in crisis. Growing violence, a deep economic decline and political corruption have combined to make the city a shadow of what it once was. It was only in 2016 that it was hosting the Olympic Games – an event into which Brazil poured billions of dollars.

But the hangover from the sporting event has hit Rio hard. Add to that the fact that federal spending has been slashed, and with violence on the rise, tourism numbers have also declined.

This was a museum that many saw as long ignored and underfunded – now, with devastating consequences for Brazil’s heritage.

It was one of the largest museums of natural history and anthropology in the Americas.

Its millions of artefacts included fossils, Brazil’s largest meteorite, dinosaur bones and a 12,000-year-old skeleton of a woman known as “Luzia”, the oldest ever discovered in the Americas.

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