Lawmakers and experts have questioned the Hong Kong government’s policy on trees after a falling branch killed a woman on Tuesday.

48-year-old Indonesian domestic worker Jumiati Supadi was crushed by a tree branch next to a bus stop on Shun Lee Estate, Kwun Tong. She was walking along New Clear Water Bay Road at around 7:30am when she was hit. She was confirmed dead after being rushed to United Christian Hospital.

Kwun Tong Shun Lee estate falling branch death

Experts at the scene said the branch was four and a half metres long and weighed around 30 kilogrammes.

Jim Chi-yung, an environmental science professor at the Education University of Hong Kong, conducted an inspection on Tuesday and said the tree – a 40-year-old rubber fig – had shown signs of fungal infection and rot.

Jim said the infection had gone on for at least six months, and the branch had become too weak to support itself.

Kwun Tong Shun Lee estate falling branch death

Kwun Tong District Councillor Choy Chak-hung said on Wednesday that he noticed the tree was struggling for space, and had previously reported the situation to the authorities.

“A lot of people get off at that bus stop, and they say they don’t know what to do, except to be more careful of what is overhead,” Choy said.

Ken So Kwok-yin, chief executive of the Conservancy Association and also an arborist by trade, said on Wednesday that the branch fell as a result of improper pruning.

The tree in question is managed by the Housing Department, and the department said it had conducted two inspections this year. In response, So said having two inspections was better than usual, but it was worrying that they still missed the problem.

Ken So Kwok-yin
Ken So Kwok-yin. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“In situations of fungal infection, it takes at least four months to half a year for there to be a rotten branch. So why did [the inspectors] not spot it in June?” So said. “This kind of infection can be revealed by visual inspection.”

So also said there is a large skill discrepancy among personnel hired by the government to maintain trees, and the government’s standards were “too loose.”

Five people have been killed by falling branches in Hong Kong over the past decade. A 19-year-old student about to enter university was killed by a falling branch in Stanley in 2008. In response, the government set up the Tree Management Office in 2010.

Bonham Street banyan trees
Authorities fell a tree on Bonham Road in May 2018.

The most recent case occurred in 2014, when a pregnant woman was killed by a falling branch at a private property on Robinson Road.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan called on the government to establish a law specifically to manage trees. Currently, the responsibility is spread among 10 government departments, and the Tree Management Office is not given enough authority to take action, Chan added.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.