Tembusu tree accident: Botanic Gardens official says there was 'no decay, no cavity'
The Tembusu tree that fell was more than 270 years old and predates the establishment of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
SINGAPORE: The Tembusu tree that uprooted in February, killing one, had passed its last inspection in September 2016, though an arborist had raised concerns the 40m tall, 270-year-old tree might have a cavity.But a second inspection by the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ deputy director Elango Velautham and his team of arborists assessed the suspected cavity to be a flute, an inquiry into the death of 38-year-old Radhika Angara was told. Ms Angara was pinned under the heritage tree when it toppled on Feb 11.She was with her French husband and their one-year-old twins at the gardens near the Shaw Foundation Symphony stage to attend an outdoor concert when the accident happened. Ms Angara was killed when the tree fell on her, while four others, including her husband and children, were injured.There was “no decay, no cavity”, Mr Velautham said on Wednesday (Aug 30). An inspection after the Tembusu had fallen confirmed that the suspected cavity was, in fact, a flute 1.5m in length, 0.2m deep and with a width of 0.3m, the inquiry heard.He described a flute to be a “protruding structure” on a tree’s trunk formed in response to “environmental exertions” to the tree.However, two independent arborists who testified before the inquiry last month agreed that the tree’s roots were in decay, though there were no visible signs that warranted more intensive checks. They also said weather conditions in the days before could have contributed to the toppling of the tree.
The Tembusu is “a very slow growing tree”, Mr Velautham said, and any decay would “take a very long time to … destabilise a tree”. Tembusu wood is tough and durable, and this tree in particular had outlasted two World Wars. The structural integrity of the tree could not have been compromised in the short time since its last inspection, Mr Velautham said.The Tembusu tree in question was inspected twice a year, as are other large heritage trees, trees in carparks, and trees in areas where “the occupancy rate is high”, he said. The fact that the tree was over 200 years old did not make it “high risk” or affect the inspection schedule, the inquiry heard.Inspections are “age independent”, and carried out “based on the assumption that all trees, big and small, pose risk”, he added.The inquiry will resume at a later date, giving Mr Velautham time to produce certain inspection records at the request of Mr Chelva Retnam Rajah, who is representing Ms Angara’s family.