Second death in Madrid in three months due to falling branches

Latest in a series of incidents involving trees sparks fears and prompts criticism of maintenance cuts

Police watch over the body of a man who was crushed by a falling branch in Vallecas.
Police watch over the body of a man who was crushed by a falling branch in Vallecas.KIKE PARA

A 72-year-old man was killed by a falling tree branch on Monday night as he went out for a stroll in Madrid.

The incident took place on Virgen de las Viñas street, in the district of Villa de Vallecas, municipal sources said. At 9.40pm, a branch broke off an elm tree and hit the victim in the head and chest, prompting a cardiac arrest.

This is the second such accident in three months. On June 21, a 38-year-old man was crushed by a 400kg branch inside El Retiro park, where he was playing with his children.

In recent months, there have been  reports of falling branches and even entire trees toppling over in Madrid

Just one month after the first fatality, a 20-meter cedar collapsed inside this park as well. That time, only minor injuries were reported.

In recent months, there have been numerous reports of falling branches and even entire trees toppling over across the city.

Mayor Botella said in July that “every year, it is normal for a certain amount of branches to fall at this time”

The city of Madrid, which is run by the Popular Party (PP), denies any connection between these incidents and deficient tree maintenance. It did, however, open an inquiry into the death at El Retiro.

But the continuing accidents have created fear among Madrileños and a political problem for Mayor Ana Botella.

In July, Botella asserted that “every year, it is normal for a certain amount of branches to fall at this time.” She also said that maintenance had “nothing to do with it.”

Madrid is one of the most tree-lined cities in the world, with two million specimens under municipal maintenance”

But the opposition parties in the city council (Socialists, United Left and UPyD) are criticizing budget cuts to the environment department and the outsourcing of maintenance work to private gardening companies last year.

“We’d been raising the alarm about the need to take immediate measures regarding tree treatment and management,” said the Socialist spokesman, Jaime Lissavetzky. “People’s safety is above everything else. There can’t be any more cuts.”

Municipal gardeners now work chiefly in El Retiro. The Vallecas area where the most recent accident occurred is under the care of local contractor FCC.

Diego Sanjuanbenito, the environment commissioner, said that city experts are analyzing the branch that fell on Monday night to find out the causes of the accident. FCC has also been required to hand over all information pertaining to the tree’s latest inspection.

“Madrid is one of the most tree-lined cities in the world, with two million specimens under municipal maintenance,” said Sanjuanbenito in July following the first death. “So far this year, there have been emergency procedures on 0.006 percent of those trees, or six out of every 10,000 specimens.”

The environment chief also announced the creation of an expert committee to review all 25,000 trees inside El Retiro, of which 5,200 are over 40 years old. This seven-member group hopes that their recommendations, which will be ready in November, will apply to all of Madrid’s trees.

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