RIO DE JANEIRO — A massive fire engulfed Brazil’s National Museum Sunday, destroying priceless artifacts dating back centuries.
Firefighters from seven different stations worked through the night to put out the blaze, but even as flames leaped from the 200-year-old building, Brazilian President Michel Temer said the losses were too great to be calculated.
The museum, which is located in Rio de Janeiro, is a former a royal palace that was converted to a museum 200 years ago. It holds at least 20 million artifacts, with exhibitions in biological anthropology, archeology, ethnology, geology, paleontology and zoology, according to the museum’s website.
“The loss of the National Museum’s collection is insurmountable for Brazil. Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge were lost,” Temer said in a tweet Sunday. “It’s a sad day for all Brazilians.”
The fire broke out at about 7:30 p.m. in Rio, according to a statement from the Federal University of Rio De Janeiro, which manages the museum. There were no reports of victims, the statement said.
Marco Aurelio Caldas, a museologist who had worked at the institution for more than nine years, arrived at the museum as soon as he heard about the fire, news agency Agencia Brasil reported.
“This is 200 years of work of a scientific institution, the most important one in Latin America. Everything is finished. Our work, our life was all in there,” Caldas told Agencia Brasil.
Other museum workers, researchers, academics and interns also flocked to Rio’s Sao Conrado neighborhood. Many of them cried as the watched flames consume the building.
The museum has been hosting a series of events and activities to commemorate its bicentennial this year.
It is home to a variety of rare exhibits relating to the history of the Americas, including thousands of works from the pre-Colombian era, such as mummified Andean skeletons. One of the museum’s most famous artifacts is known as “Luzia,” the skull and bones of a 25-year-old woman who died more than 11,000 years ago. They are the oldest remains ever discovered in Brazil, according to the museum’s website.
The largest meteorite ever found in Brazil is also housed in the museum. It weighs 5.36 tons and was found in 1784.
The museum also houses an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, like mummies, sarcophagi, statues and stone carvings.
Its current director João Carlos Nara, said the damage was “irreparable.”
The building was once home to the Portuguese royal family, and today it’s the oldest historical institution in the country and a prominent research institution.
It was founded on June 6, 1818, by João VI of Portugal upon his arrival to Rio de Janeiro as part of the Imperial Royal Family.