About 85,000 historic and artistic items that tell the story of the Chinese migration to the United States are feared lost in a fire that struck a building in the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown, a museum official said on Friday.
The president of the Museum of Chinese in America told The New York Times that the fire started on Thursday night and tore through a building where the museum’s acquisitions were stored.
“One hundred per cent of the museum’s collection, other than what is on view,” said Nancy Yao Maasbach, the president of the museum.
Maasbach said the collection was one of a kind and that she was “just distraught” after receiving the news.
The fire started in a former school that more recently housed a senior centre, the Chen Dance Centre and a number of community groups. The museum is nearby and stored its collection in the structure that was hit by fire.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.
A Fire Department spokesman said the fire was still not under control on Friday night, 24 hours after it was first reported.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said firefighters were forced to battle the blaze from the outside.
“The interior became untenable and the units had to be withdrawn,” he said. “It was too dangerous in the building.”
Maasbach said she was told by emergency workers that no one would be able to enter the building to retrieve items for at least three weeks.
She said the museum’s artefacts, which included textiles, restaurant menus and tickets for ship’s passage, had likely been soaked by water and would be irreparably damaged by then.
About 35,000 items in the collection had been digitised and those files were backed up, she said.
Nine firefighters and a 59-year-old man were injured in the blaze.
The man was rescued from the fifth floor of the building and was reported to be in serious but stable condition. The firefighters sustained minor injuries.
The fire came ahead of the Lunar New Year on Saturday.
City Council member Margaret Chin said the fire was “devastating”.
“We will work to make sure vital services aren’t lost,” Chin told WNBC.
“I know the neighbourhood is in shock,” de Blasio said on Twitter. “We’re going to help the community get through this.”
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