RIO DE JANEIRO – About five months ago, a major fire destroyed almost all of Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum, but the team recovering what is left is optimistic and is working to rescue as many of the institution’s treasures as possible.
The country’s oldest museum, which housed about 20 million pieces, was largely consumed in the Sept. 2 fire, which destroyed a portion of Brazil’s historical legacy and one of the most important collections in Latin America.
Five months later, the museum opened its doors on Tuesday to the press to show them – and the public – how the recovery operation is progressing.
The fire caused enormous losses and charred rubble is everywhere in the building, beams were twisted by the flames and walls collapsed. Amid the wreckage, a huge number of pieces are still awaiting recovery and restoration.
Although standing amid the ruins the view is not encouraging, one member of the museum staff emphasized that “more pieces than expected can be recovered.”
The museum’s paleontologist, Luziana Carvalho, told EFE that on the day of the fire she was working at the institution and even entered one of the halls to try and save some fragments.
She declared that initial expectations were quite low but “the current climate is one of joy” since “every day people find something new and a good part of the collections will be rescued.”
Even so, she stressed that this is a very slow process since much of the material is severely damaged and delicate and there are even pieces that have not yet been removed from the museum to be restored and must be treated at the site.
The recovery process has been gradual due to its complexity. The building must be stabilized, rubble must be removed and potential damage from rain falling into the roofless building shell must be prevented, and this is worse during the current rainy weather and can make the rescue work much more difficult and deal out setbacks to the achievements made to date.
About 80 people are participating in the recovery process, along with a large part of the museum staff.
Prof. Sergio Alex de Acevedo, who worked in one of the museum’s laboratories before the fire, explained that after the blaze the personnel changed their functions and became part of the salvage team.
Acevedo said that “the loss is incalculable,” not only for Brazil but for the world.
“When people don’t know anything about fires, they think everything is burned in the same way and that the salvage process is the same for all the pieces, but no, each one has some unique characteristics. It’s a difficult job,” he said.