Fire Guts Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum

An aerial view of the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after a major fire. // Photo by AP Photo/Mario Lobao via Newscred

A massive fire struck the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, considered to be one of the most important museums in Latin America, Sunday evening.

The New York Times reports that it took more than six hours for 80 firefighters from 21 stations to extinguish the fire. Museum Deputy Director Cristiana Serejo told the New York Times that only about 10 percent of the museum’s collection had been spared by the blaze. Maruilio Oliveira, a paleoartist who has worked at the museum for 19 years, said that one of the facility’s most famous pieces, a 12,000-year-old skeleton named Luzia, was most likely destroyed.

“We are strongly hoping that she survived, but it’s very difficult,” Oliveira told the Times. “The skull is very fragile. The only thing that could have saved it is if a piece of wood or something fell and protected it.”

Luzia is the oldest set of human remains discovered in the Americas.

According to Time magazine, the museum was home to a collection of more than 20 million scientific and historical artifacts. Most of what was lost was contained within the Imperial Palace, a 200-year-old structure that was once home to the Portuguese royal family. That wing also held the largest meteorite ever discovered in Brazil, which officials have confirmed survived the fire.

CNN reports that hundreds of protestors faced off with police Monday as outrage built over reports linking the fire with government spending cuts and inadequate infrastructure maintenance. The building’s sprinkler system was unable to fight the blaze, and the fire system as a whole had been approved for an upgrade in June, although funds were not expected until October. Additionally, only two nearby fire hydrants were working during the fire, reportedly forcing fire crews to draw water from a nearby pond.

On his official Twitter account Brazilian President Michel Temer called called the loss of the collection “insurmountable for Brazil.”

The President’s office also reports that it has held talks with a group of financial entities and public and private companies to create an economic support network to enable the reconstruction of the museum.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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