An aerial view of the National Museum of Brazil after a fire burnt it in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil September 3, 2018. (Photo/Agencies)
Rio de Janeiro firefighters on Monday battled and brought under control a devastating fire that destroyed Brazil's prestigious National Museum.
Despite their efforts, little remains of the more than 20 million artifacts in the collection of the 200-year-old museum, which is also the South American country's oldest scientific institution.
"What survived? The building and several pieces, almost 10 percent," Cristiana Serejo, a museum deputy director, told reporters at a press conference.
The fire broke out late Sunday after the natural history museum was closed to the public. No injuries were reported, according to local authorities. Only the security guards were inside the building at the time of the blaze but they all managed to escape unharmed.
Fire spread quickly through the wood interiors of the three-story building, fueled by a vast collection of documents.
Efforts to put out the fire were hindered by the fire hydrants that however had no water, so firefighters were forced to collect water from a nearby lagoon until more water trucks arrived.
For hours, only one ladder was available to battle the blaze and it was put to use on the front of the building, while the fire quickly spread to the back of the museum.
The National Museum, which celebrated its 200th anniversary in June, originally served as a residence of Brazil's imperial family, when the country was under Portuguese rule. It was where Empress Leopoldina signed Brazil's declaration of independence in 1822.
Among its prized collection were a meteorite discovered in the 18th century, the largest dinosaur fossil ever found in Brazil, and the fossilized skull of Luzia, the oldest human remains found in the Americas, dating back 12,000 years.
It also had several pieces of Greek and Roman art, a number of Egyptian mummies, and a large collection of African art dating back to the early 19th century.
At least part of the Central Library, which was housed in a separate building, was saved, along with some documents and botanical exhibits saved by museum workers who entered the burning building to rescue what they could.
In recent years, the museum saw cutbacks in funding that led to several exhibits being closed due to the poor state of the building.
A string of news reports revealed electrical problems and termite infestation. The museum was even briefly closed after electricity bills went unpaid.
An online crowd funding effort was set up earlier this year to reopen one of the dinosaur exhibits.
In 2018, the museum, which is affiliated with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), has received only 10 percent of the needed maintenance budget, according to local media reports.
A renovation project, including fire prevention and mitigation measures, was reportedly postponed because of Brazil's electoral law, which restricts spending during an election period.
According to Serejo, the building's smoke detector wasn't working.
Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, a deputy director at the museum, complained about the lack of care and interest for historical heritage in Brazil. He told local TV stations late Sunday that no authorities attended the ceremony of the museum's anniversary and that museum directors had been requesting renovation funds for several years.
"The museum's collection, 200 years of history, was completely destroyed," he said.