Image: Drone view of Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro

Latin America

Brazil mourns lost treasures after massive fire guts National Museum

A fire that raced through Brazil's 200-year-old National Museum on Sunday is believed to have destroyed much of its collection of more than 20 million items, ranging from archaeological finds to historical memorabilia.

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Image: People watch as a massive fire engulfs the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro

People watch as a massive fire engulfs Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro on Sept. 2, 2018.

Brazil's National Museum boasted the largest archive of historical artifacts and documents in Latin America, some 20 million pieces from around the globe.

 

 

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Image: Firefighters work to contain a fire at the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro

Firefighters work to contain the blaze that 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.

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Image: A fire burns inside Brazil's National Museum of Rio de Janeiro

The Rio fire department's commander, Roberto Robadey, said the hydrants outside the building were dry when firefighters arrived, forcing them to turn to a nearby lake and tanker trucks for water.

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Image: People watch as flames engulf Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro

People watch as flames engulf the museum. 

With the cause still under investigation, many already have begun to fix blame, saying years of government neglect left the museum underfunded and unsafe.

Roberto Leher, rector of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, to which the museum was linked, said it was well known that the building was vulnerable to fire and in need of extensive repair. In fact, two years ago, federal prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro began investigating safety conditions in the building.

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Image: Firefighters work as a massive fire engulfs Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro

Brazil's culture minister Sergio Leitao told the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper the blaze was likely caused by either an electrical short-circuit or a homemade paper hot-air balloon that may have landed on the roof. Launching such balloons is a long-held tradition in Brazil and they routinely cause fires.

Both possibilities were being considered, Culture Ministry spokeswoman Roberta de Oliveira Ribeiro said, but the cause would not be known until an investigation was completed. 

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Image: Flames engulf Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro

Smoke billows from the museum.

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Image: A firefighter rescues items during a fire at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro

A firefighter rescues items during the fire. 

Some objects were rescued from the flames on Sunday night by a professor who rushed into the blaze. Paulo Buckup, a professor of zoology at the museum, recounted Tuesday how he and a few other people pulled out mollusks and marine specimens, going into and out of the building several times until it became too dangerous. He said the group tried to identify in the dark the most irreplaceable objects, but said they only saved a "minuscule portion of the heritage that was lost."

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Image: People rescue items during a fire at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro

People rescue items from the museum.

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Image: People watch as a fire burns at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro

People watch as the fire burned out of control throughout the building late into the night.

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Image: A firefighter at Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro

Even as efforts turned to searching the rubble, firefighters were still occasionally directing water at the building, where some embers were still burning. Eduardo Rosse, a fire official, said that was normal for a blaze of this size.

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Image: An aerial view of the National Museum of Brazil after a fire burnt it in Rio de Janeiro

An aerial photo of the main building taken Sept. 3  shows heaps of rubble and ashes in the parts of the building where the roof collapsed.

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Image: Staff react outside the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro

Staff hug outside the museum. 

Cristiana Serejo, the museum's vice director, said UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural agency, had offered financial and technical assistance. French and Egyptian officials also have offered help. The museum was home to Egyptian artifacts, and Egypt's ministries of foreign affairs and antiquities have expressed concern over the fate of those objects.

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Image: Protesters try enter the premises of Brazil's National Museum during a protest in Rio de Janeiro

Protesters try to enter the premises of Brazil's National Museum during a protest on Monday. 

The institution had recently secured approval for nearly $5 million for a planned renovation, including an upgrade of the fire-prevention system, but the money had not yet been disbursed.

On Monday, government officials promised $2.4 million to shore up the building and promised to rebuild the museum.

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Image: Students and National Museum employees protest outside the institution

Students and National Museum employees protest outside the institution.

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Firefighters and museum personnel carry away a burnt painting from the museum.

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Image: Drone view of Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro

A view taken by a drone of the National Museum.

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A group of people help an unconscious woman during a protest in front of Brazil's National Museum.

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Image: A firefighter works near a meteorite at Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeir

A firefighter works near the Bendego meteorite. Weighing more than 5 tons, the meteorite is the largest ever found in Brazil. It was found in the state of Bahia in the 18th century. 

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Image: Firefighters remove charred debris from Brazil's National Museum

Firefighters remove charred debris.

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Image: Women react a day after a massive fire ripped through Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro

Women cry as they sit outside the museum a day after the fire. 

Many have already said that regardless of what is salvaged, the loss will be immeasurable.

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Image: Aerial view of the damage to the National Museum of Brazil after a devastating fire

An aerial view of the damage.

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Image: National Museum personnel embrace as they stand outside the burned National Museum in Rio de Janeiro

National Museum personnel embrace as they stand outside the museum.

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Image: Hundreds of people take part in a protest against the Brazilian government

Hundreds of people protest against the Brazilian government in Rio de Janeiro.

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Women hold signs during a protest against the Brazilian government.

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A drone view of Rio de Janeiro's National Museum with the Maracana stadium in the background, on Sept. 4, two days after the fire ripped through the building.

Firefighters found bone fragments from a collection in the still-smoldering National Museum, an official said Tuesday, raising hopes that a skull called Luzia, which is among the oldest fossils ever found in the Americas, might somehow have survived.

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