Firefighters respond to a blaze at Brazil's National Museum

Wednesday, 05 Sep, 2018

"This is a tragic day for Brazil".

"It makes me inordinately sad to think of those millions of specimens and exhibits, the product of two hundred years of collection and the life's work of so many hundreds of scientists and explorers, just going up in flame and turning to dust".

Felipe Barroso, a 29-year-old architecture student, told ABC News that there was a real lack of maintenance despite the building being the largest natural history museum in Latin America. Police held the crowd back with pepper spray, tear gas and batons.

Kellner said the institution had recently secured approval for money for a planned renovation, including an upgrade of the fire-prevention system. The museum (historic building, old royal palace) was managed by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Definitely an unbearable catastrophe. It is 200 years of memory. It is 200 years of culture. "It is 200 years of culture, of education", Luiz Duarte, a vice-director of the museum, told TV Globo.

The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Duarte was among those who blamed government officials for failing to support the museum and letting it fall into disrepair.

The deputy director, Duarte, voiced "profound discouragement and vast anger" as the treasured institution burned, accusing Brazilian authorities of a "lack of attention".

Firefighters were poised to enter the charred ruins to see what might be salvageable, a fire department spokesman told AFP, adding that it would be unsafe. It contained priceless items including Egyptian artifacts and the oldest human fossil found in Brazil. As of writing, no deaths or injuries have been reported.

Photos from the scene showed firefighters carefully laying out recovered artifacts. "Everyone in the museum community has to get behind our colleagues in Brazil and see what we could do to help them".

"ICOM and all its affiliates are deeply saddened by the fire which engorged the National Museum Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, which destroyed the museum's collection". Some are calling it one of the most devastating losses of anthropological and archaeological information in the Western Hemisphere. But the flames quickly fueled criticism of Brazil's dilapidated infrastructure and budget deficits as the nation prepares for national elections in October.

Leitao also said the fire struck just after the South American country's National Development Bank had signed a sponsorship contract aimed at revitalization.

Mércio Gomes, an anthropologist and former president of Brazil's indigenous agency, Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), compared the loss to the burning of the library of Alexandria in 48BC.

The human toll to get them to the museum over two centuries was brutal and lasting, he wrote.