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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pali's had its share of fallen trees

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

When a 60-foot tree slammed into Honolulu-bound rush hour traffic on Pali Highway Monday morning, hitting two cars and contributing to the crash a half hour later of another vehicle, it wasn't the first time something like that had happened.

In January 2008, two people were hospitalized after a 30-foot tree fell into the town-bound lanes of the Pali during rush hour, causing a traffic snarl that lasted for four hours.

Two weeks later, on Jan. 15, four men escaped injury when a large tree landed on their pickup as they were heading toward Windward O'ahu. That same night, two vehicles were struck by another falling tree near the Pali tunnels.

On Monday, crews closed one town-bound lane while the fallen tree was removed. A motorist in a red sports car swerved to miss backed-up vehicles and crashed into an ironwood tree. The driver was treated for minor scrapes at the scene.

Tammy Mori, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, said trees fall more frequently on Pali Highway because of the high winds and rainy conditions that occur there.

"The high winds that the Pali sees and the heavy rainfall affects the trees along that route," she said. "You know how windy the Pali Lookout can get."

The Monday mishap is a case in point, she said.

"The tree was actually rotted because of the weather," she said. "So the heavy rains and winds over the past week were like a recipe for disaster as far as trees go."

Mori said the rains soften and destabilize the soil at the base of trees and enable high winds to blow dead trees over.

State road crews have been removing larger, more hazardous trees on Pali Highway. The result is that there have been fewer falling trees than in the past, Mori said.

Furthermore, whenever there's a high-wind advisory or flood watch, DOT crews from the various DOT maintenance districts travel the island to trim back low hanging branches and other hazards that might occur due to weather, she said.

"They also hire a professional arborist to do a hazardous tree assessment at least once a year to reduce the incidence of falling trees," Mori said.