Toppled acacia snags traffic for 7 hours

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

CEBU (Updated) - Terry Suerte, 62, was doing her morning routine at 4:33 a.m. when she heard what she thought were loud gunshots in her neighborhood in Sitio Katugasan, Barangay Perrelos, Carcar City.

She immediately crouched and crawled for cover. Minutes later, she heard a crash on her wall.

“Sus! Nakakita pa ka nako. Makatawa gyud ka kay gakamang ko. Nikamang ko kay abi nako og machine gun na. Sus, abi nako og mamatay nako (You would have laughed if you had seen me. I crawled for cover because I thought it was a machine gun firing. I thought I would die),” she told Sun.Star Cebu an hour later.


But Suerte lived up to her family name, when she ran outside to find that the branches of the century-old acacia tree across the road had collapsed on her store, damaging its frame and railings.

7 hours

No one was hurt, although the fall stalled traffic on both sides of the road for nearly seven hours.

Two other small businesses—a tailor’s shop and a shop that repairs air conditioning units and refrigerators—were also damaged by the giant tree. Some residents said the tree was part of a batch planted in 1914.

Toppled acacia tree
Century-old acacia tree collapsed. No one was hurt. (Photo by Girlie Enriquez Veloso)

Carcar City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (CDRRMO) head Jojo Campugan pegged the damage to the walls and roofing of Suerte’s store and the two other shops at P100,000.

It was lucky timing that saved the Soterol family, who left just five minutes before the crash to hear mass at the Iglesia Ni Kristo church in San Fernando town. Otherwise, they would likely have been hurt because their multicab was parked in front of their aircon-refrigeration services shop, said Suerte.

She recalled telling the barangay officials last week to cut the tree across the road because the crown was already leaning toward her store. She was told by a barangay councilor that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is responsible for the trees.

In a separate interview, Perrelos Barangay Captain Richard Ybañez told Sun.Star Cebu that the tree that fell at 4:33 a.m. was bigger than the one that fell in Barangay Balud, San Fernando town last month. (Carcar and San Fernando are adjacent.)


He said that the tree was the first century-old tree that fell in the last decade in his barangay, which yearly celebrates its fiesta by holding the Acacia Festival.

The barangay is known for the canopy of trees lining the national road.
Ybañez also said the heritage trees in his barangay are protected by Presidential Decree 953, which penalizes the unauthorized cutting of trees on public roads.

He, however, thinks that some of the trees may have to be cut if these are already life-threatening.

Ybañez and Campugan oversaw the clearing operations that started at 5:20 a.m. with the use of four chainsaws and a boom truck owned by the Carcar City Government.

The highway became passable at 10:20 a.m. after personnel from the Cebu Provincial Government and the Department of Public Works and Highways helped in the operations, which succeeded with the aid of the barangay officials, local volunteers and personnel from the local town hall.

Residents thanked the Carcar Amateur Radio Communicators Inc., led by Mario Van Alcordo, for manning the traffic and the alternative routes, despite the drizzle that started at 7:20 a.m.

Heavy crown

The authorities allowed only one side of the road to be used until the road was entirely cleared at 10:54 a.m.

The DENR on Saturday said the tree was in an advanced stage of decay near its root system.

Dr. Eddie Llamedo, DENR Central Visayas spokesman, said that based on the investigation by forester Felimon Embalzado Jr., the tree’s crown was too heavy. The trunk’s diameter was 195 centimeters and the tree was around 18 meters high.

“The crown of the tree, numbered 351, was too heavy for it. The tree was recommended for immediate cutting in an assessment conducted by Embalzado last week,” Llamedo said.

DENR 7 Executive Director Isabelo Montejo instructed Embalzado to immediately complete the assessment of all Carcar City’s trees and submit a report tomorrow, so they can speed up the issuance of a special tree-cutting permit after a clearance.

DENR asked the Carcar City mayor and the barangay captains to issue a certification that they do not object to cutting the trees. The agency also did the same in San Fernando, where some century-old acacia trees were recommended for cutting.

As of 2:50 p.m. Saturday, Embalzado counted 77 trees that were diseased or defective, which meant these should be cut.

Care for trees

Of the 77, 28 are century-old acacia trees. The others are star apple, mahogany, jackfruit, molave and gemelina trees.

DENR 7 is allocating more than 500 molave saplings, which will be planted along the road from Naga City to Carcar City.

“We hope these trees will be given proper care and maintenance by the local governments concerned, including the communities there,” Llamedo said.

Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) 7 Director Ador Canlas said his department, barangay officials, Carcar City’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, local volunteers and the Cebu Provincial Government helped in the clearing operations on Saturday.

The accident stretched travel times for commuters heading to or from Carcar.

Julie Anne Reyes, a call center agent, was supposed to start her shift in Cebu City at 6 a.m.

She took a bus at 4:45 a.m. in Bolinawan, Carcar City, but because of the acacia’s fall, did not get to Cebu City until 9 a.m. The trip normally takes no more than 90 minutes.

She coped

Elizah Torres, a nurse in a hospital in Naga City, said that when she woke up and heard about the tree, she decided to head for work early. She boarded a motorcycle from Carcar to San Fernando, then transferred to a multicab going to the City of Naga.

“Naka experience naman mi nga grabe ka late, mao na karon kahibaw nami unsaon (I’ve been through this before, so I know what to do now),” said Torres.

She arrived minutes before her call time at 6 a.m.

Insp. Luzviminda Langbid, a deputy of the Police Community Relations office who hails from Argao, was among those affected by heavy traffic.

In a phone interview, Langbid said that she left Cebu City at 8 a.m. Upon reaching Perrelos, Carcar, her party took a detour along with the other vehicles. Traffic was slow, but at least it kept moving.

She arrived in Argao around noon. (With Jill T. Rabor & Elias O. Baquero)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 28, 2014.

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