A fierce blaze has engulfed Rio de Janeiro's National Museum which housed millions of unique, historical items. "Two hundred years of work, investigation and knowledge have been lost," the president said.
Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro was engulfed by a huge fire on Sunday night, putting in jeopardy millions of the country's most valuable historical treasures.
Firefighters in northern Rio de Janeiro battled the blaze into the early hours. After five hours, they had managed to bring the blaze under control, but were still working to extinguish it completely.
Spokesman for the fire department, Roberto Robadey, said firefighters were hindered in tackling the fire as two hydrants closest to the museum were not working. Water had to be brought from a nearby lake. Some of the museum's artefacts were saved, Robadey told Globo News television: "We were able to remove a lot of things from inside with the help of workers of the museum."
Television footage showed the fierce flames light up the night sky, as thick plumes of smoke rose out of the burning building.
Brazilian media, citing security officials, said no one was believed to be injured. The museum had already closed by the time the fire broke out in the evening.
The cause remains unclear.
In a statement, Brazilian 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. "The loss of the collection of the National Museum is incalculable."
The National Museum, which is tied to the Rio de Janeiro federal university, dates back to 1818 and is one of the oldest museums in South America. The building housed more than 20 million historical artefacts, not just from Brazil but also from ancient Egypt, Greece and Italy.
It also housed "Luzia," the oldest human fossil to have been found in Brazil.
Before becoming a museum, the building served as the residence for the Portuguese royal family and later Brazil's imperial family.
But despite the building's rich history, the National Museum's vice director Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte told Brazil's Globo News that the museum had suffered from chronic underfunding and Dias Duarte voiced "profound discouragement and immense anger" as it burned. He accused authorities of a "lack of attention."
"We fought years ago, in different governments, to obtain resources to adequately preserve everything that was destroyed today," Dias Duerte said. "We never had adequate support."
A lost identity
Former environment minister Marina Silva said the blaze was a "catastrophe .... equivalent to a lobotomy of the Brazilian memory." The museum "contains objects that helped define the national identity -- and are now turning to ashes."
According to reports, Brazil's state-run development bank, the BNDES, has pledged some 22 million reais ($5.4 million, €4.7 million) to help "physically restore the historic building."
Brazil is struggling to emerge from its worst recession in decades, which was spurred by extensive government mismanagement and corruption.
jm,dm/rt (AP, dpa, Reuters)