A 92-foot-tall pine tree, dubbed “The Great Tree” by California Baptist University students, snapped off at mid-trunk and fell amid high winds in Riverside late Wednesday morning, Feb. 2, crushing a portion of an apartment building.
Support pillars, windows, a walkway, the roof and railings were smashed but no one was in the damaged apartments at the time and no one was reported injured, said Officer Robert Griffin of the university’s police force.
“We’re real fortunate we didn’t have a catastrophe involving human life,” Griffin said.
Traveling, plenty of nerves were shaken.
Amariah Hunt, a 22-year-old anthropology major from Stillwater, Oklahoma, said she was in bed in her first-floor apartment watching YouTube when the tree struck the building at about 11:45 a.m., leaving a branch blocking her door.
“I heard a really loud, thundering noise and everything was shaking,” Hunt said. “At first, I thought it was a terrible earthquake.”
A friend raced in and told Hunt about the tree. She dressed quickly and fled without taking the time to put on shoes.
“It could have gone a lot worse,” Hunt said. “God protected us, because the people up there (on the second floor) would have probably been really harmed.”
That friend, Megan Lansing, 21, a junior nursing student from Riverside, was also in a ground-floor apartment and saw the tree slowly fall.
Very scary. Very loud,” she said.
Winds in the Riverside area were blowing at about 45 mph at the time, said James Brotherton, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Officer Griffin blamed the tree’s demise on the wind. Nearby off-campus, a tree toppled onto power lines, prompting the closure of some lanes of Magnolia Avenue.
A city of Riverside structural engineer was examining the building Wednesday afternoon, and the university was finding housing for an estimated 24 displaced students, said Kent Dacus, vice president for student services.
The university was taking care of other needs as well.
Dacus saw Hunt, unable to get back into her apartment to get her shoes, in her stocking feet and called the athletics department, which rushed over a pair of blue and black, size 7 Adidas. They fit perfectly, Hunt said.
Dacus explained the generosity: “It’s what we do here. It’s part of our culture.”
The thick-trunked tree, native to the Mediterranean Basin, sheared off at about 20 feet high. Its long, narrow branches were lush with pine needles that once cast cooling shadows on buildings.
As landscapers began arriving to remove the Aleppo pine, which appeared to be otherwise healthy, Hunt thought about the loss of the tree that once towered above the 70-foot-tall Events Center.
“It’s literally huge,” she said. “We call it The Great Tree because it’s so big and great. And we used to think it was so beautiful. Now, not so much.”