A centuries-old tree that served as a historic symbol in Sierra Leone has been felled during a storm, the government has said.
The 70-metre (230ft) Ceiba pentandra – known by Sierra Leoneans as Cotton Tree – lost all of its branches on Wednesday during torrential rains and high winds, with only the base of its enormous trunk still standing. The tree, which was in the capital, Freetown, was about 400 years old.
The president, Julius Maada Bio, said: “All Sierra Leoneans will pause for thought at the loss of such a prestigious national symbol as Cotton Tree. For centuries it has been a proud emblem of our nation, a symbol of a nation that has grown to provide shelter for many.”
According to legend, formerly enslaved people who won their freedom fighting on the British side of the American war of independence prayed under the tree when they arrived in west Africa.
Cotton Tree adorned banknotes and stamps, was visited by Queen Elizabeth II in 1961 and had remained a popular attraction ever since.
Freetown residents continued to pray beneath the tree, which in recent decades towered over a busy roundabout near the national museum, the central post office and the country’s highest court.
On Thursday morning, about a hundred residents gathered at the site in mourning.
Gibrilla Sesay, a 34-year-old finance worker, said: “I’m shocked and heartbroken to see our beloved Freetown Cotton Tree destroyed this morning on my way to work.”
There were no reports of injuries, the government said.
The police and military were deployed to the area on Thursday, and the government announced a cleanup effort was under way.
Sierra Leone has suffered several climate-related disasters in recent years. In 2017, more than 1,100 people were killed in a mudslide in the capital when part of a mountain collapsed on to informal settlements. Eight people were killed in a landslide last August.
At least 15 people died in flooding this month, according to the national disaster management agency.
Sierra Leone’s rainy season typically lasts from May to October.