A massive fire has destroyed millions of items at Brazil's national museum—and for many Brazilians, shock has turned to anger. The blaze, which began at the 200-year-old museum in Rio de Janeiro after it closed to the public Sunday, is believed to have wiped out much of its 20-million item collection, including Latin America's largest national history collection, the Guardian reports. "It is an unbearable catastrophe," museum vice-director Luiz Duarte told TV Globo. "It is 200 years of this country’s heritage. It is 200 years of memory. It is 200 years of science. It is 200 years of culture, of education." Famous items feared to have been destroyed in the blaze include "Luzia," a 12,000-year-old skeleton thought to have been the oldest ever found in the Americas.
The cause of the fire is still unknown, but the building, which once housed the Portuguese royal family, had fallen into disrepair in recent years amid budget issues. Fire authorities say there was a huge amount of flammable material in the building—and the nearest two hydrants were dry. "This isn't just Brazilian history that's gone up in flames. Many see this as a metaphor for the city—and the country as a whole," says BBC correspondent Katy Watson, who notes that rising violence and economic decline have hit Rio very hard since the 2016 Olympics. "This was a museum that many saw as long ignored and underfunded—now, with devastating consequences for Brazil's heritage," she says. (Read more Brazil stories.)