A man has been killed and a woman injured when a palm tree fell on them in Barcelona park.
Barcelona City Council officials say they are baffled by the accident which they admitted comes after lockdown caused local green spaces to be neglected, and they have ordered the park where it happened closed so that all remaining trees can be checked.
The Catalan police (Mossos d’Esquadra) has opened an investigation into the incident which happened in the Parque de la Ciutadella in the centre of Barcelona at 03:08 pm on Tuesday, 25th August.
It resulted in the death of a 41-year-old man who was underneath the palm tree at the time, and the injury of a woman who has been hospitalised with unspecified injuries. Their names and nationalities were not revealed and it was also not known if they knew each other.
The tree, a date palm, was between 10 and 15 meters (33 and 49 feet) tall and snapped off two thirds of the way up.
They say that at the time the wind was blowing at 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour) which on the Beaufort scale would put it at around 6 and classify it as a strong breeze.
Frederic Ximeno, the council’s Manager of Parks and Gardens, said at a press conference that during the three-month lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parks and Gardens employees did not work and did not maintain the urban flora, something they have been catching up to since the State of Alarm ended. They pointed out that the fact many of the green areas were overgrown was because they had been prioritising inspections of trees.
He said however that despite that, this tree had passed the compulsory safety tests carried out every 2 years in 2018 when 230,000 trees (including 10,000 palm trees) were checked in the city of Barcelona.
The priority after lockdown had been lifted, he said, was to check trees that had not been examined in 2 years, and this has now been done.
The tree in question that caused the fatal accident was due to be reviewed again in the next few months.
Worryingly though an initial inspection of the tree did not find the presence of the red palm weevil, an insect that attacks palm trees and kills them. That indicated that even if it had been inspected more recently, it would probably have passed.
Nevertheless, the Parque de la Ciutadella will be closed for the next three days so that all the trees can be given a careful check, which the experts said would be more detailed than the usual checks as they still don’t know why the palm tree that killed the man broke.
The official said that based on the feedback from the analysis of the tree as to what caused it to fall over, they would possibly modify the inspection process.
The notice of the tragic event occurred at 3.10 p.m. and the first of the five ambulances sent by the Medical Emergency System arrived at 3.16 p.m.
According to the official responsible for monitoring emergency calls in the area where the accident happened, Quim Rios, said that it had been quickly confirmed that the injury suffered by the man were “incompatible with life.”
The injured woman was taken to a hospital. It is not known if the two whose identities and nationalities were not revealed had known each other.
It is also not known if the deceased was sitting on one of the benches that was completely destroyed by the impact.
The mayor, Ada Colau, sent a message via twitter to the victim’s family: “My condolences to the family and friends of the man who lost his life today in the Parque de la Ciutadella. And I wish the injured woman a speedy recovery. From the City Council, we appreciate the action of the emergency services and we started an investigation to clarify the causes of the events”.
Opposition politicians meanwhile have demanded urgent action to clarify exactly what did cause the mysterious collapse of the tree.