Thu | May 23, 2019

Brazilians question who is at fault after Rio museum burns

Published:Tuesday | September 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM
People watch as flames engulf the 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.


Smoke rose on Monday from the burned-out hulk of Brazil's National Museum, as recriminations flew over who was responsible for the loss of at least part of Latin America's largest archive of historical artefacts, objects and documents.

The museum's director said part of the collection was destroyed but that it was not possible yet to detail what was lost.

The museum had a collection of 20 million items - including Egyptian and Greco-Roman artefacts and the oldest human skull found in the Western hemisphere - and was once the home of the Portuguese royal family.

It was not clear what was at the site when the building caught fire Sunday night.

But the fire quickly led to criticism over dilapidated infrastructure and budget deficits as Brazilians prepare to vote in national elections in October.

"Just crying doesn't solve anything," Alexander Kellner, the museum's director, told reporters at the scene. He became emotional as he listed the funds and support he said he would now "demand" from authorities to salvage what was left of the collection and rebuild the museum. "We have to act."

Kellner said that the institution had just recently secured approval for funds for a planned renovation of the museum, including an upgrade of the fire-prevention system.

"Look at the irony, the money is now there, but we ran out of time," he said.




Roberto Robadey, a spokesman for the fire department, said firefighters got off to a slow start fighting the blaze because the two fire hydrants closest to the museum were not functioning. Instead, trucks had to be sent to get water from a nearby lake.

Kellner said there were fire extinguishers on site, but it was not clear if there were sprinklers since they are problematic for museums, because water can damage objects.

The building was still standing Monday morning, but much of it appeared to have been gutted. A few hundred people crowded at the gates of the site, some in tears.

On the massive site where the museum sits, the fencing was dilapidated, stonework was cracked and lawns appeared untended.

"This fire is what Brazilian politicians are doing to the people," said Rosana Hollanda, a 35-year-old high-school teacher, who was crying at the gates of the museum on Monday. "They're burning our history, and they're burning our dreams."