Giant tree in Manoa crashes down on minivan

Mrs. Sugihara
Mrs. Sugihara

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

MANOA (HawaiiNewsNow) - A giant tree broken in half, a minivan crushed, and a college student fortunate to be alive - it's a scene that tied up traffic in Manoa since Wednesday morning.

Eight hours later, crews were still out on Oahu Avenue cleaning up. That's how massive the tree is, and the damage on the minivan shows just how much of a close call it was.

"I was flabbergasted," said Mrs. Sugihara, who lives on the property.

A tree stump is all that's left in the ground after the 80-foot banyan crashed down on the minivan.

The mangled vehicle belongs to a University of Hawaii at Manoa student.

"She was just about to go to her car when she saw the tree just slowly going down, and it fell on her car so luckily she wasn't there earlier. She was going to take a nap in her car," said Sugihara.

Sugihara says there were warning signs.

"That part of the tree fell three weeks ago on one side," she said.

"We had a branch failure out here several weeks ago and we came out here and at the time did a, looked the tree over, and no indication of anything wrong with the tree at that time," said Honolulu Municipal Arborist, Austin Braaten.

Braaten says he and his crew still aren't sure what caused the tree to buckle, even after cutting up the trunk.

"Did you find any termites?" Hawaii News Now asked.

"No, the cause of the failure isn't really evident right now. The canopy looked really healthy to us so there were no real obvious signs that there was something wrong with this tree," said Braaten.

With no termites, and no apparent signs of disease, Braaten said it could be old age.

"This banyan must be about 100 years old because this house was built in 1916. I've been here 53 years so the tree was there already," said Sugihara.

"Manoa has some of the oldest trees on the island. It was kind of one of the first neighborhoods a lot of people coming from different areas brought trees with them from Asia, North America, the tropics and around the world," said Braaten.

This isn't a first in Manoa.

Five years ago, a 70 to 80 foot pine tree fell on a house on Beckwith Street, crushing 12-year-old Julia Engel while she was asleep.

The Punahou student nearly died, and was in a coma for two weeks.

It's a track record that has residents like Sugihara, hoping the city will get to the root of Manoa's tree problem.

"I hope they plant some other trees. They said they were going to take this {other tree} down too and replace it with another type of tree," said Sugihara.

In order to diagnose the fallen tree properly, crews are going to have to slice through the stump to figure out what went wrong. They'll be back Thursday morning to do just that.

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