Alexa Gellman was fast asleep in her room at the Delta Delta Delta sorority house early Tuesday morning when the walls suddenly began to shake.
After rising from bed and looking out the window, she found that raindrops weren’t all that was falling during a rainstorm with wind gusting up to 51 mph in Chapel Hill.
“I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to my room shaking because a giant branch had fallen on the Tri Delt roof right next to our window,” she said.
The falling branch also woke freshman Jessi Tremayne, who lives in the room beside Gellman’s.
“We didn’t realize what had happened at first,” Tremayne said. “The house was shaking and there was a lot of loud noise. Only when we looked outside did we see the tree.”
The storm also toppled trees near Jackson Hall and Battle Hall, forcing the University to remove the fallen foliage and surrounding debris.
While the trees that fell on-campus did not harm surrounding buildings or people, the tree that fell onto the Franklin Street sorority house caused damage to the roof and outside stairs.
The most noticeable fallen tree on campus crashed to the ground near Jackson Hall at 9 a.m., said Tom Bythell, the University arborist.
He said the fallen oak tree was 60 to 70 years old, which is relatively young.
Bythell said the large tree fell on top of three or four smaller trees, but didn’t harm any students or campus buildings.
“Most of the time there isn’t damage,” he said. “It’s actually fairly rare for that to happen.”
An elm tree also fell by Battle, Vance and Pettigrew halls. The tree fell onto another tree and needed to be disentangled, but it too left students and nearby buildings unscathed.
By 1:30 p.m., Bythell said both areas were cleaned.
Although Bythell and his crew monitor the University’s trees regularly to prevent damages like those at the sorority house, he said predicting a fall is not always easy.
“It depends on whether there’s leaves on the trees, whether there’s root damage, how soft the ground is,” he said.
“There’s too many variables.”
Such unpredictable factors caused two on-campus oak trees to collapse in November 2009.
The first tree, which Bythell said was old and rotting, hit two students and inflicted minor injuries.
The second tree fell onto Saunders Hall, breaking a window and triggering the first-floor floodlights. Bythell said it fell because of strong winds and saturated soil.
But Kirk Pelland, then-director of grounds services, said at the time that falling trees should not be feared.
“We certainly don’t want our students being afraid of our trees,” he said.
And in the aftermath of Tuesday’s storm, Bythell echoed Pelland’s message.
“A few months ago, I took three large oaks down by Dey Hall because I deemed them to be dangerous,” he said.
“Whenever we see trees getting close to becoming dangerous, we remove them.”
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