A colossal tree that stood tall as a symbol of freedom in Sierra Leone's capital for centuries was brought down during a heavy rainstorm, leaving the nation in mourning.
President Julius Maada Bio expressed his sorrow over the loss of the renowned tree, stating that it is “a great loss to the nation.” Crowds gathered to witness the fallen trunk as President Bio emphasized its significance.
Known as the “Cotton Tree,” this iconic landmark held immense importance in the West African country, which was founded by freed American slaves. Legend has it that upon their arrival by boat in the late 1700s, these settlers would gather beneath the tree's branches to offer prayers before embarking on their new lives.
Over time, the tree became featured on the country's banknotes and celebrated in children's nursery rhymes.
“It was regarded as a symbol of liberty and freedom by early settlers,” the president expressed on Twitter.
“We have to see what we are going to do to make sure that we keep the history of this tree here,” he added while speaking to Reuters at the scene. “I want to have a piece of this history wherever I find myself – at the state house, the museum, or city hall.”
Standing in the middle of a roundabout in central Freetown, the kapok tree, measuring 70 meters in height, dominated the skyline with its towering branches reaching above the surrounding buildings.
Victor Tutu Rogers was among the last individuals to witness the tree standing. He recalled passing by the Cotton Tree at approximately 9:40 p.m. (2140 GMT) on Wednesday as the rain and wind grew stronger.
“I hurried past the cotton tree on my way from work because I feared that the branches might fall,” he shared.
“Shortly after that, there was a heavy lightning strike, and I heard a loud bang – the sound of the tree falling behind me.”
On Thursday morning, workers cleared away the wreckage, revealing a sprawling pile of broken branches and freshly exposed wood.
While nearby structures and vehicles suffered damage during the fall, no injuries were reported.
Festus Kallay, the Chief Administrator of Freetown, remarked that the city used to hold its annual Thanksgiving ceremony under the shade of the landmark tree every November.
“The Freetown skyline will hardly be the same again.”
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