A fire ravages the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro, a cultural jewel of Brazil

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AFP |

A huge fire devastated Sunday the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro, a disaster described as “tragedy for culture”, but no victim has been reported so far. The fire, still unknown, began around 19:30 local (22:30 GMT) while the museum was closed to the public, reducing to ashes collections and archives of great value, said the Brazilian media.

“So far, there are no reports of casualties, he (the fire) has spread very quickly, there is a lot of flammable materials” in the museum, told AFP spokesperson for the firefighters of Rio de Janeiro. TV Globo’s aerial images show the majestic 13,000-square-meter building in the northern part of Rio de Janeiro, ravaged by huge flames for hours.

The institution suffered budget cuts. While the flames consumed this jewel of Brazilian culture, sadness mingled with the indignation of researchers, professors and students.

Despite the rapid dispatch of firefighters, the fire gained hundreds of rooms in the museum, destroying everything in its path. After more than three and a half hours of struggle, firefighters still have not managed to contain the fire, said an AFP photographer.

Created by King John VI and opened in 1818, the National Museum is one of the oldest and most prestigious museums in Brazil. This Latin American cultural and scientific institution has more than 20 million pieces of value.

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Cultural Jewel

The website of the National Museum details the works present in the building: an Egyptian collection, another of Greco-Roman art and artifacts, collections of paleontology including a skeleton of a dinosaur found in the region of Minas Gerais and as the oldest human fossil discovered in Brazil, known as “Luzia”.

“Today is a tragic day for Brazil, two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost,” President Michel Temer said in a press release. The deputy director of the museum, Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, confided that he felt “a deep discouragement” and “an immense anger”.

“All the historical archives, which were kept in an intermediate area of the building, were completely destroyed and 200 years of history have disappeared,” he lamented. Dias Duarte accused the Brazilian authorities of “lack of attention” and stressed that there has never been “effective and urgent support” for an adaptation of the palace, the former official residence of the royal and imperial family.

The fire, still unknown, began around 19:30 local (22:30 GMT) while the museum was closed to the public, reducing to ashes collections and archives of great value, said the Brazilian media.

Culture Minister Sergio Sa Leitao later acknowledged that “the tragedy could have been avoided” and that “the problems had accumulated over time” for the establishment. He said that in 2015, under the former president left Dilma Rousseff, the museum was “closed for lack of resources for its maintenance”.

Linked to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), the institution suffered budget cuts. While the flames consumed this jewel of Brazilian culture, sadness mingled with the indignation of researchers, professors and students.

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Some of them called for a demonstration protest Monday in front of the destroyed building. The fire “is a tragedy for culture,” the director of another Brazilian museum, the National Historical Museum Paulo Knauss, told TV Globo.

Senator Lindenbergh Farias of the Workers’ Party (PT, on the left) denounced the lack of means to support the museum and made the link with government-mandated spending cuts.

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