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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 29, 2007
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This oak tree stood more than 100 years before it inexplicably fell Tuesday morning, damaging multiple structures and utilities at residences near Decatur High School. Residents say they don't know what caused it to fall.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
This oak tree stood more than 100 years before it inexplicably fell Tuesday morning, damaging multiple structures and utilities at residences near Decatur High School. Residents say they don't know what caused it to fall.

It all came crashing down
A tree-falling mystery
Residents unsure why 100-year-old
oak fell; garage, shed crushed

By Evan Belanger
evanb@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

Residents near Decatur High School have no explanation as to what caused a more than 100-year-old oak tree to come crashing down in their backyards Tuesday morning.

A portion of the large tree fell at about 5:30 a.m., residents said. It crushed a garage at the home of Ken and Jerri Whittaker at 1209 11th Ave. S.E. and a storage shed at the home of Elizabeth Flick at 1207 11th Ave. S.E.

The rest of the massive oak remained standing until after city officials inspected the scene. It fell at about 11 a.m., about 30 minutes after inspectors left, one resident said.

While the downed tree caused extensive damage to structures and property in both yards and to a fence in a third yard, residents said they were not sure what caused it to fall.

They reported no storms or high winds at the time of the incident and said the tree appeared to be healthy until it was lying in their yards.

Ken Whittaker said he was in his yard walking his dogs just seconds before the tree fell. He reported hearing several small objects hitting the ground, but ignored it.

"I thought it was rain. Then, I went inside, and it fell probably 30 seconds after I closed the door," he said.

Limbs from the tree reached to within a few feet of the door.

"If he had been outside just a minute or two more, it would have gotten him and the dogs," said his wife, Jerri.

Other residents said the tree struck the ground so violently their houses shook.

"I thought it was going to come through my living room," said Flick. "It sounded like an 18-wheeler had wrecked."

The state Forestry Commission has credited drought with downing a number of large trees this year. Reportedly, as the trees dry out, they become more brittle and are more likely to break under their own weight.

It was not clear Tuesday if drought played a factor in the local incident. According to the National Weather Service in Huntsville on Tuesday, most of North Alabama was more than 19 inches below normal rainfall for the year.

The downed tree damaged electrical lines and other utilities, knocking out power to multiple houses. The electricity was restored by Tuesday evening, residents said.

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