PAHOA (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Big Island driver is counting his blessings after a close call with a towering tree. Daniel Kelly drives through the scenic tree tunnel just outside Pahoa twice a day. A falling branch from an albizia tree wrecked his car on Friday.
"Obviously, it hit very hard and very fast. No time to react," said Kelly, a farmer from Kapoho.
The impact smashed the hood of the car, leaving a chunk of the engine on the road. Kelly walked away shaken and sore.
"It's pretty frightening to think that I have to go through there every day. Now that I know, I'm always looking up," he said.
Countless fast-growing albizia trees line Highway 132 near Lava Tree State Monument. They've also taken root across the island. The invasive species can reach heights of more than 100 feet.
"Their wood is extremely brittle because the rate that they grow and so they create hazards wherever they are. The branches come off the trees in just a slight wind and storm event," explained Jimmy Parker of the Big Island Invasive Species Committee.
The committee helped to cut down albizia trees threatening Upper Puna Road as part of a demonstration project three months ago. Parker said that there is a huge need for funding to prevent the problem from getting worse.
"We've heard of trees falling on homes and fence lines and along the road, but to have a car be just in the right spot where that branch hits it, it just means that they're falling down at a higher rate," said Parker.
"I would really appreciate the county to take care of this matter as soon as possible. The clock is ticking," said Kelly. "It's not a matter of if, but when."
A county spokesperson said that a highway crew will inspect the area and take appropriate action.
According to experts, bringing the problem under control will require millions of dollars. A push to secure funding failed during the last legislative session. The immediate priority is to remove trees near homes, highways and hospitals.