In Vietnam hub, street trees become nightmare during rainy season

By Mai Vong-Cong Nguyen, Thanh Nien News

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A tree fell on a Ho Chi Minh City street over the weekend, killing a woman and sounding the alarm on the city’s management of its aging population of street trees.
On August 17, Nguyen Thi Nhung, 36, was riding down Nguyen Binh Kiem Street on her husband's motorbike with her two children when high winds and heavy rain uprooted a tree, pitching its branches onto passing motorists, witnesses said.
Nhung was rushed to hospital where she succumbed to her injuries. Her husband, who was driving the bike, and their children suffered only minor injuries.
Vu, a resident who witnessed the accident, said he was standing in his home near the site when he saw the falling lim xet (Yellow Flame Tree) crush two motorbikes and five people.
Nhung’s family and a young woman on another motorbike were injured; Nhung was the hardest hit.
According to Vu, he and more than 10 other people tried to lift the tree to pull Nhung out, but it proved too heavy.
It wasn't until a crowd formed that they were able to move the trunk -- which measured around 50 centimeters in diameter, he said.
Thuy, another eyewitness, said she can't stop thinking about the gory scene.
“It'd leave anyone worried about their family every time they step out into the street, especially during the rainy season,” she said
The city keeps no official statistics on tree-related accidents, but a review of Thanh Nien’s archives since 2012 revealed at least two fatalities and dozens of injuries caused by falling trees.
Most of the accidents were caused by the lim xet, which is widely planted in the central and southern provinces.
The species lines many HCMC streets, particularly downtown streets like Le Loi, Dong Khoi, Le Duan and Nguyen Binh Khiem.
Most were planted prior to 1975.
Who is to blame?
Nguyen Trinh Kiem, a spokesman for the Vietnam Parks and Greenery Association, said the lim xet’s roots grow horizontally and the tree lacks a tap-root to anchor it.
As such, the tree can easily be uprooted during big storms.
In April 2012, when a tropical storm weakened into a depression and slammed into HCMC, 208 lim xet trees were among the 683 trees that fell.
According to Kiem, trees that quickly develop branches and leaves like the lim xet, should be seriously trimmed before each rainy season to reduce the risk of falling branches.
However, he said the state-owned HCMC Park and Greenery Company, which manages the city's parks and street trees, doesn't have the manpower to do an adequate job.
Kiem suggested the company chop down old and diseased trees that are at high risks of falling.
One urban tree expert told Thanh Nien that city authorities should chop down risky trees and replace them on an annual basis. Street trees shouldn't be allowed to get too big, he said.
He suggested that the city plant me chua (tamarind tree), bang lang (queen crape myrtle), bo cap nuoc (golden shower tree) and long nao (camphor tree).
Lawyer Pham Van Thanh of the HCMC Bar Association said the victims of falling tree accidents can seek compensation from the city government.
The two sides can negotiate the amount, but if no agreement is reached, the victims can bring their cases to court.

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