Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – A massive fire gutted the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, one of Brazil’s oldest, authorities said Sunday, but no injuries were immediately reported.
The cause of the fire, which broke out around 2230 GMT, was not yet known, according to local media.
Firefighters are tackling the blaze at the building, which contains more than 20 million items in its collection.
There have so far been no reports of any injuries in Sunday’s fire.
The museum, which once served as the residence for the Portuguese royal family, celebrated its 200-year anniversary earlier this year.
The museum was founded in 1818 by King Joao VI and is among Brazil’s most important, with valuable national treasures inside.
“This is a tragic day for Brazil,” President Michel Temer said in a statement. “Two hundred years of work and research and knowledge are lost.”
“This is a cultural tragedy,” the director of the National History Museum said on Globo TV.
In an interview with Brazil’s TV Globo, the museum’s director said it was a “cultural tragedy”.
One member of staff told the network that project managers had had “tremendous difficulty” trying to secure funding for “sufficient” resources for the palace.
Another, librarian Edson Vargas da Silva, is quoted by local media describing the building, which he said had wooden floors and contained “a lot of things that burn very fast”, such as paper documents.
The museum houses thousands of items related to the history of Brazil and other countries including Egyptian artefacts, according to its website.
Its natural history collection includes important dinosaur bones and a 12,000-year-old human skeleton of a woman – the oldest ever found in the Americas.
Among the South American artefacts in the collection are archaeological findings, fossils and meteorites.
Employees had reportedly previously expressed concern about funding cuts and the dilapidated state of the building.
The institution was established in 1818 as the Royal Museum with the aim of promoting scientific research by making its collection available to specialists.