A 20-year-old accounting student died Sunday after a huge tree fell across a Phnom Penh street, crushing the man in his car, witnesses and police said.
During a light rain around 6:30 pm, a large tree in the yard of the Faculty of Pedagogy in Daun Penh district collapsed and fell. It hit an electric pole, and both crashed across Pasteur Street.
Chea Vuthy, a student at the National Institute of Management, was driving along Pasteur when a branch from the tree crushed his car, killing him, witnesses and family members said.
“We are all sad for this loss, because he was only one year away from finishing his course,” the dead man’s brother-in-law, Im Viracheat, said.
Although no one else was injured in the accident, the collapse also destroyed a bookstore. “I am still in a panic about the incident yesterday. My entire body shakes,” bookstore owner Ek Sokhom said.
Phnom Penh is filled with trees planted nearly a century ago. Damage to the streets the last few decades have tended to push tree roots up, leaving them susceptible to collapse. This is especially a problem in Daun Penh district, authorities said.
“Last month, falling trees damaged six cars near Angdourng Hospital in Daun Penh,” Municipal Agriculture Department staff member Ham Horn said.
Those in the neighborhood said Chea Vuthy’s death has left them rattled.
“I am scared about the incident. When it rains or the wind blows, I run out of my store. The government should cut old trees away. I am scared for my safety, and that of every passerby,” bookseller Sok Sophealy said. Sok Sophealy’s shop is about 10 meters from where Sunday’s accident occurred, beneath two looming old trees.
Phnom Penh officials acknowledged that old trees are a hazard, but added that care must be taken to preserve one of Phnom Penh’s most beautiful features—its stately, tree-lined boulevards.
“Some old trees have become national artifacts, and we cannot cut them away,” Phnom Penh Chief of Cabinet Man Chhoeun said.