Fire guts National Museum

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Flames engulf the 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil.

Luzia's remains are among almost 20 million items feared destroyed after a blaze roared through Rio de Janeiro's National Museum yesterday, in an inferno that Brazilian officials and scientists are describing as an unbearable erasure of human history.

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. He said the paper hot air balloon may have landed on the roof. "We are going to proceed with great care, to see if we can save something".

And although the cause of the fire has not yet been identified, Ms McKay said the event was an important reminder that museums receive the necessary funding to mitigate risks such as fire.

It spread with astonishing speed, demolishing wood, documents and other flammable materials in its wake.

Brazil's President Michel Temer said in a tweet that it was a "sad day for all Brazilians", adding: "The value of our history can not be measured by the damage to the building".

Brazilian President Michel Temer called the damage an "incalculable" loss for the country.

Since then, the National Museum has become Brazil's oldest historical institution and an internationally prominent research center.

The museum, which is located in Rio de Janeiro, holds at least 20 million artifacts, according to the Brazilian government news agency Agencia Brasil.

Some of the priceless items in the museum's collection included a meteorite found in 1784, a 12,000-year-old skeleton and fossils of dinosaurs.

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The building was also home to items covering the centuries from the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1500s to the declaration of a republic in 1889.

Brazil's Minister of Culture Sergio Sa Leitao acknowledged that "the tragedy could have been avoided", without accepting responsibility or providing further details. "Culture is grieving. The country is grieving".

Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, the deputy director, noted another irony: He said museum officials were seeking renovation funds in 2013, at the same time that Brazil was spending millions to build stadiums for the World Cup, which it hosted the following year.

The building was initially built as the palace for the royal family back in 1818 but has operated as a museum since 1982.

"We fought years ago, in different governments, to obtain resources to adequately preserve everything that was destroyed today", he said. The interior of the building was mostly wood, and safety upgrades were hard to make because of federal rules governing historically protected sites.

At the scene, many people, including some museum workers, blamed the government for chronically underfunding the institution and letting it fall into disrepair.

The National Museum's collection ranged from archeological finds to historical memorabilia.

The museum had suffered significant budget cuts, leading it to close in 2015 because of maintenance issues.

Dr Barker said it will likely take years for the National Museum to rebuild, although it could be quicker if any items were stored at other locations.

"The money spent on each one of those stadiums - a quarter of that would have been enough to make this museum safe and resplendent", he told Brazilian TV.

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