A massive fire tore through a 200-year-old museum in Rio de Janeiro late Sunday, lighting up the night and sending large plumes of smoke into the air as firefighters tried to save historical relics from the flames.
Firefighters worked to put out the blaze at northern Rio’s esteemed National Museum, which houses artifacts from Egypt, Greco-Roman art and some of the first fossils found in Brazil.
The museum said in a statement that the blaze began about 7:30 p.m. There were no reported injuries and the fire started after the museum had closed to the public, the statement said. It wasn’t immediately clear how the fire began.
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.
According to the museum's website, it has more than 20,000 items related to the history of Brazil and other countries, and many of its collections came from members of Brazil's royal family.
Roberto Robadey, a spokesman for the fire department, said 80 firefighters were working to put out the blaze and that some pieces had been spared.
“We were able to remove a lot of things from inside with the help of workers of the museum,” he told Globo news.
Connected to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the museum has expositions that include anthropology, archaeology and paleontology, among others.
The vice director of the museum, Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, told Globo news that the museum suffered chronic underfunding.
“Everybody wants to be supportive now. We never had adequate support,” he said.
Brazil has struggled to emerge from its worst recession in decades. The state of Rio de Janeiro has been particularly hard hit in recent years thanks to a combination of falling oil prices, mismanagement and massive corruption.
“Unfortunately, given the financial straits of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and all the other public universities the last three years, this was a tragedy that could be seen coming,” Marina Silva, one of the leading presidential candidates, tweeted.
Via Instagram, Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella called on the country to rebuild.
“It's a national obligation to reconstruct it from the ashes, recompose every eternal detail of the paintings and photos. Even if they are not original, they continue to be a reminder of the royal family that gave us independence, the [Portuguese] empire and the first constitution and national unity,” he wrote.