Brazil museum fire: Brazilians question who is at fault

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Recriminations are flying after fire tore through Brazil’s National Museum resulting in 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.

Brazil Museum Fire
Fire burns inside the 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil (Leo Correa/AP)

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.

Michel Temer tweet
(Twitter screenshot)

“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.

Mr 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.

Asked by a reporter why such a disaster doesn’t happen at cultural institutions in other countries, Mr Kellner, replied: “Ask yourself that. That’s a good question, ask yourself that.”

Brazil Museum Fire
People watch as flames engulf the 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil (Leo Correa/AP)

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.”

“We all knew the building was in a vulnerable state,” he told reporters. He added that officials had been working with firefighters to reduce those risks.

“A fire of this scale, the reality unfortunately showed this, we needed a systematic intervention,” he said.

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