Young driver and national athletics champion Emma Kruszona by the stump of the tree that fell onto Essex Street PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

BECKIE WILSON

beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

A tree buffeted by winds toppled bit- by- bit onto Essex St in Masterton on Tuesday night, almost crushing a car and its driver.

Emma Kruszona credits her last-minute dash to grab a drink bottle from her house for narrowly escaping being hit by a huge bough that split and fell from a Pin Oak.

Miss Kruszona, 20, was driving to the gym when she heard the cracking of the tree before it fell about 30 metres in front of her car.

The large Pin Oak, which has been the subject of many complaints to Masterton District Council from people living nearby over many years, fell section- by- section onto Essex Street on Tuesday night.

Residents were startled by the sound of cracking as the first section split and fell across the road.

Most of the debris was cleared for traffic to pass.

Then, shortly before midnight, neighbours were awoken by a loud cracking sound, as the remainder of the tree split, taking out powerlines, damaging a house and cutting power to a handful of residents.

Paula Wyatt with a piece of timber ripped off her house when the tree fell across her power line. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

Long-time Essex St resident, Paula Wyatt, was awoken at 11.55pm by the noise of the falling tree that sliced through power lines servicing her home, ripping timber off from under her roof.

It was not until she went outside yesterday morning Mrs Wyatt realised the damage to her home.

She found a solid piece of wood lying on the front lawn, more than 10 metres from the house.

Mrs Wyatt said she was more upset at the response of Masterton District Council who she spoke to a staff member about the incident.

She was told the incident was “an act of God”, and there were no contractors available to reconnect the power to her home yesterday.

“[The officer] was quite dismissive of my issues,” Mrs Wyatt said.

She thought the council officer could have been “a bit nicer,” as being a ratepayer she helped pay their wages.

Mrs Wyatt said she was “not happy” with the council’s handling of the situation.

While she had already organised an electrician to assess the damage, she was unsure how long it would take to reconnect the power.

She was prepared to stay in Wellington with her children if the repairs were going to take days, she said.

Mrs Wyatt never parked her car near the recently fallen tree, or the one next to it.

The first part of the tree to crash onto Essex Street just before 8pm Tuesday. PHOTO/ALISON SUTHERLAND

“I never parked under the trees because I thought they were an accident waiting to happen.”

At the end of the day, no one was injured she said, but she would have appreciated more help from the council.

The fallen Pin Oak had stood in front of Nicola McLeod’s property for all the 20 years she has lived there.

Mrs McLeod said she had complained to the council “a handful of times” about the danger of the leaning tree.

“We were so concerned about it we took photos in, and the response was “do you not like trees”,” she said.

In the end, she “gave up on the council.”

Mrs McLeod’s power supply was also cut and she was still without power at midday yesterday.

The lucky car driver, Miss Kruszona, Wairarapa United women’s team goalkeeper, said she had reversed out from her driveway just before encountering the first section of tree to fall.

“I backed out and I was driving down the road.

“I was 30m from it when I saw it starting to crack and then it fell straight in front of me,” she said.

She said earlier she had actually gone to her car, then went back inside to get a drink bottle, before returning to her vehicle to drive away.

Those few seconds had been the difference between a hit and a miss.

“I was like no way . . . I was feeling pretty lucky.”

Miss Kruszona said the tree had been “on a lean for ages”.

MDC councillor and chairman of the Street Trees Advisory Group John Dalziell said he agreed some of the trees along the street were getting “far too big”.

“We have talked about it and there is an acknowledgement that something needs to be done about them, going forward,” he said.

Mr Dalziell said in the past there had been a policy that only some trees could be pollarded, but agreed this should be changed and all need to be done.

“If there is a safety risk there, it does become a serious issue.”

There are many big trees around town the same size that aren’t getting blown over, he said.

According to MetService, the windspeed at 8pm on Tuesday was 18kph, and 30kph at midnight.

Masterton fire station officer Kevin Smith said his crew attended the incident around midnight.

The fire crews blocked off the road, and called the power authority, he said.

One resident’s driveway was blocked because live powerlines had fallen onto the road.