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Reduced to Rubble: Video from Incinerated Interior of National Museum of Brazil (plus: the aftermath)

WARNING: The video below (posted yesterday on Twitter) of the fire-ravaged interior of what was once the National Museum of Brazil (now largely reduced to rubble) may induce nausea and is not for the faint-of-heart:

The most heartbreaking moment of the video is captured in the screenshot below: A pathetic portable fire extinguisher stands uselessly in the ruins, beside the wall text for “Bendegó” (which means “Blessed” in Portuguese)—the largest meteor found in Brazil and one of the few survivors of the conflagration that ripped through the museum on Sunday night:

Here, in another screenshot, is the indestructible “Bendegó,” still resting on its pedestal:

According to the woman who tweeted this sorry sight—Marta Lourenco, deputy director of the National Museum of Natural History and Science in Lisbon and president of the International Council of Museums’ (ICOM’s) international committee for university museums and collections—the clip was shot by a Rio de Janeiro firefighter and was sent to her by Marcus Granato, secretary of the ICOM committee that she heads.

Marta Lourenco

Nelson Belen of the English-language Rio Times reported today that despite the flames and the collapse of the museum’s top two floors, some of its “most prized artifacts may have yet survived the blaze, thanks to the heroic efforts of museum staff, technicians, and students” who “charged into the burning building.” Among the rescued—“some of the museum’s more than 40,000 mollusk specimens.”

Not so lucky, according to Cristiana Serejo, deputy director of the museum (as quoted today by the Guardian‘s Dom Phillips), was the Egyptian collection, said to have been totally destroyed.

Among those presumed lost:

Coffin of Sha-amun-en-su, Egypt, about 750 BC

Meanwhile, I’ve seen no information on the museum’s website about this disaster, save for this addition to its homepage last night:

“Our exhibits are closed due to the fire that destroyed most of our collections.”

Posted on the museum’s Facebook page is a photo of a press release about the incident, but I can’t copy and paste the Portuguese text into Google Translate. (I’m awaiting a reply to my request for a document that will allow me to do so.) My Portuguese-reading art-lings will be able to get a step ahead of me on this. (Translation, please?)

How did the infernal flames manage to spread, unchecked, so quickly? According to several reports, nearby fire hydrants weren’t working properly. This report in the NY Times quotes Serejo, the deputy director, as saying that the museum’s smoke detectors weren’t working and the museum’s building was not insured.

But where were the guards, who should have been the first line of defense in this emergency, alerting authorities and, if feasible, wielding the fire extinguishers? According to this Wall Street Journal report, “four security guards who were in the building when the fire started were able to leave unharmed.” The WSJ added that “neighbors [not the guards?] called firefighters when they spotted flames on Sunday evening burning through the windows of the museum.” By then, the fire’s destructive course must have been far advanced.

I assume that the investigation into this catastrophe will include detailed questioning of the guards: What did they know, when did they know it and what did they (or didn’t they) do about it?

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