Sierra Leone’s historic cotton tree, a symbol of independence, fell in a storm

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (Reuters) – A giant tree that towered over Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown for centuries and was a symbol of freedom for its first residents fell overnight during heavy storm rains.

President Julius Maada Bio called the fall of the famous tree “a great loss to the nation” as crowds gathered to watch the destroyed trunk.

The “cotton tree” was the most important symbol of this West African country founded by freed American slaves.

According to legend, when they arrived by boat in the late 1700s, they gathered under its branches to pray before settling in their new land.

The tree appears on Sierra Leone banknotes and is celebrated in children’s nursery rhymes.

“She was considered a symbol of freedom by early settlers,” the president wrote on Twitter.

“We have to see what we are going to do to make sure that we keep the history of this tree here,” he said on the spot, interviewed by Reuters.

“I want to have a piece of this history wherever I am – in the state palace, the museum or the town hall.”

Until the storm broke the 70-metre-tall trunk at its base, the kapok tree sat in the middle of a crossroads in central Freetown, its tallest branches towering above the surrounding towers.

The collapse damaged nearby buildings and cars, although no injuries were reported.

(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; French version edited by Victor Gorée-Lafont, Blandin Heinault)

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