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Risks were known, says Brazil National Museum employee

September 3, 2018

A fire has claimed the vast majority of more than 20 million artifacts at Brazil's biggest museum. Police deployed tear gas to control crowds who were demanding entry to inspect the damage.

Brasilien, Rio de Janeiro: Nach dem Brand des Nationalmuseums
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Pimentel

The flames finally went out at Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, after the loss of most of its more than 20 million artifacts. As Brazilian police used tear gas and pepper spray to keep back angry crowds surrounding the ruins and trying to force their way in, officials from the museum said that the dangers had been well known.

Vice Director Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte told Brazilian TV that the risk of fire was so present in museum employees' minds that they would unplug everything in their offices every day, and that they had recently been given training from firefighters on how to handle an emergency. Duarte said that the damage to the collection was extensive, saying highly heat-resistant meteorites were among the few items to survive.

The blaze, the cause of which remains unknown, began on Sunday evening and destroyed the museum's collections of art and artifacts dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, including the oldest human skull ever found in the western hemisphere. The museum also housed a comprehensive collection on Brazilian history, from Portuguese colonization in the 1500s until independence in the 1800s.

 "It's not enough just to cry, it is necessary that the federal government, which has resources, helps the museum to reconstruct its history," museum director Alexandre Keller said in front of the burned-out building.

Brazil's National Museum engulfed by fire

Temer pledges funds for rebuild

To that end, President Michel Temer promised that several private banks, the public development bank, mining company Valem, and controversy-plagued state-run oil company Petrobras would form a "network of economic support" to rebuild the museum and reconstitute its collection.

"This is a tragic day for Brazil," Temer said. "Two hundred years of work and research and knowledge are lost."

Brazil's Minister of Culture Sergio Sa Leitao acknowledged that "the tragedy could have been avoided," without accepting responsibility or providing further details.

"The problems of the National Museum have been piling up over time," he added.

es/msh (AP, AFP)