A contract labourer was killed on Friday night after a tree branch fell on him outside the Chennai Metrowater’s depot office in MKB Nagar.

According to police, the victim, Venkatesh, 35, was working for a firm that had taken up a Metrowater project to replace old drinking water pipelines in the city.

Thangavelu, who worked with Venkatesh, said, “We stay in temporary shelters in the depot office and go to work at Ambedkar Nagar, Ayanavaram. Venkatesh usually goes to his home in Avadi with other family members who work here. He decided to sleep out of the tent as it was sultry. I. along with two others who were sleeping nearby noticed that a tree branch fell on him around 10 p.m. He suffered a head injury and was killed instantly.”

This incident has evoked concern among labourers about their safety. They said that the contractors and government agencies must ensure that workers have a secure place to stay as most of them are from other towns. Metrowater officials said that they have stopped allowing labourers to stay in their premises and the contractors must pay compensation to the victim’s family.

Many trees across the city are leaning precariously in the aftermath of Cyclone Nilam, in dire need of immediate attention. The Corporation has so far cleared 832 trees uprooted by the cyclone. The trees include 61 of with huge trunks. Ninety personnel from National Disaster Relief Force and 2000 employees of the civic body and other agencies such as Traffic Police and Fire and Rescue Services were involved in the work to clear the branches.

However, experts say that if only the Corporation had pruned the trees, at least 100 to 200 trees of the nearly 1,000 that fell could have been saved.

D. Narasimham, professor of botany, Madras Christian College, said, “As we are in a coastal area, some amount of vulnerability is to be expected. But there are some tree species that can withstand high wind speeds. The choice of species is important and planting at 2 – 2.5 feet depth so that there can be better fixation of roots is crucial.”

He said that pruning of branches would have helped reduce the tree’s weight. “Civic agencies seem to have forgotten the art of maintenance. They don’t ensure that trees have enough space to grow and take deep roots in the ground,” he said.  

The Tree Bank, an NGO that distributes saplings for free, says it plans to seek permission from the Corporation to plant trees in the place of those that fell down. “We found in our survey that 903 trees have fallen down and 2,063 have lost branches after Cyclone Nilam. In some places very old trees have been uprooted,” said G. Mullaivanam of Tree Bank.

Areas including Gandhi Nagar in Adyar, Besant Nagar, Kotturpuram, Anna Nagar, Villivakkam and Pattinapakkam have lost a lot of trees. Along with uprooted trees, the NGO’s volunteers have enumerated 37 birds five squirrels, died.

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