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Short Notes on Nature Singapore

19 February 2017 | Fallen Trees |

Most people would have read about the fatal accident at the Singapore Botanic Gardens caused by a fallen Tembusu Tree (Fagraea fragrans) last Saturday (11 February) afternoon. The news was in the first page of the Straits Times on Sunday and it occupied half of that page. Apparently, it was a very old Tembusu tree of more than 270 years old. What caused it to fell after 270 years is likely to remain a mystery.

Fatal accident due to fallen trees were very rare in Singapore. My search had found only 4 cases, including the one last Saturday over the last 10 year.

  • 15 May 2007: A 42-year old woman was killed by a fallen Rain Tree (Albizia saman) in the Bukit Batok Nature Park. Some reports identified the involved tree as the Albizia (Falcataria moluccana) instead.
  • 20 July 2010: A 32-year old man was killed when a Rain Tree fell and crushed the car he was in, at the junction of Thomson Hills Drive and Yio Chu Kang Road.
  • 27 April 2013: A 25-year old man was killed when a Rain Tree fell on his car in Admiralty Road West.
  • 11 February 2017: A 38-year-old woman was killed when a 40 metre tall Tembusu Tree collapsed in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Besides the 4 cases above, there were another 2 fatal accidents related to fallen branches.

  • 31 May 2007: A 25-year old man was killed by a falling tree branch from a forest tree known as the Litsea at the exit of the Tree Top Walk trail at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
  • 25 April 2009: A 46-year old man was killed when a 20-metre long branch fell on him while he was doing upgrading work at the Pyramid Club in Goodwood Hill.

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To put the numbers in perspective, there are 140 fatal traffic accidents in 2016 alone according to a recent news report and this number was said to be the lowest since 1981. Conservatively, we are talking about at least 1400 fatal traffic accidents over a 10-year period. When compared to the 6 fatal cases caused by fallen trees or their parts over the same period, this was no way close to the traffic accident rate though like vehicles, trees were everywhere in Singapore. In conclusion, the fatality risk from fallen trees or their parts is very low.

Back in 2013, in the midst of a perceived higher frequency of fallen trees and branches that injured some people and damaged properties, at least 2 pieces of articles on this topic appeared in the Straits Times which I felt had not provided a balance view on fallen trees, specifically toward the Albizia and Rain Tree, and did an injustice to the trees. This prompted me to pen my opinion in a short note which I shared in my website back then. I was glad that such lopsided comments did not surface this time round on the Tembusu Tree. Risk from fallen trees is a reasonable trade-off to enable us to enjoy greenery in our midst.

Update: 5 May 2018

The investigation to the fatal accident at the Singapore Botanic Gardens due to a fallen tree was closed on 30 April 2018 after the coroner ruled that it was a tragic misadventure. There were 2 new fatal accidents related to fallen tree or branches after the Singapore Botanic Gardens incident in February 2017:

  • 17 August 2017: A 5-year boy was seriously injured by a falling Khaya senegalensis tree along Upper Bukit Timah Road. He died a week later on 25 August in the hospital.
  • 21 April 2018: A 89-year old man was killed by a falling tree branch at North Bridge Road.

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