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After Branch Kills Baby, New Yorkers Look Skyward

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After Branch Kills Baby, New Yorkers Look Skyward

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After Branch Kills Baby, New Yorkers Look Skyward

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n New York today, there are still questions about who's responsible for the death of a 6-month-old baby this weekend. She was killed by a falling tree branch in Central Park. Her mother was seriously injured. And now, people are asking: Was it a rare, freak occurrence, or was someone negligent?

Here's New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Mr. MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Mayor, New York City): This is, I think - may just have been an act of God.

NORRIS: NPR's Margot Adler is one of many New Yorkers who walk by that tree almost every day.

MARGOT ADLER: There are 24,000 trees in Central Park. They provide beauty, shade, and a home for migrating birds on the Atlantic Flyway. They shelter owls and raccoons, provide food for Baltimore Orioles and Scarlet Tanagers. You can even learn the names of all the trees by following trail guides that have been around for decades. But this past year, there have been two deaths from falling branches. A third person was injured in another incident.

The latest tragedy happened on a perfect summer day, when a tree limb fell on the mother and child as they posed for a photograph. The branch, described as healthy, fell from a tree in the Central Park Zoo. The child died. The mother was hospitalized. Suddenly, we - the more than 25 million people who use this park - are looking up more often as we walk.

I go by that tree every day as I walk to work. Taking that route again this morning, I asked people what they were thinking as they walked by. Most were tourists who hadn't heard about it. But New Yorkers were eager to comment.

Mr. JOHN KOVAC: My whole thing is keep everything green. But, listen, if it's going to kill people, cut it down.

Ms. JENNA DELIGIOI: It definitely makes you more conscious of your surroundings, and what's happening and going on.

Ms. BERNADETTE O'CONNELL: I think it is nature. It's not a freak of nature. It's just the way things go. I feel sorry for the family.

Unidentified Man: All these branches are dead. Take a look. It could've been any one of us.

ADLER: Last August, a short, intense summer storm - called a microburst - downed more than 100 trees in the park. Once forested areas are now grassy meadows striped with rows of hay to stop erosion. For months, you could see uprooted trees; some have yet to be removed. Fenced-in areas as big as buildings were filled with cut logs and piles of woodchips higher than several people standing on top of each other.

Perhaps the storm weakened more trees than we know. The Central Park Conservancy, a public-private partnership, handles tree maintenance in the park, and they spend almost a million dollars on it every year.

In the past, I have seen a dozen smoke jumpers in the park - those men and women who jump from planes and helicopters to put out forest fires in the West. When fire season is over, they come here to chase the Asian longhorned beetle. When they find infestations, trees are cut down. There's a lot of maintenance that goes on here every day, but perhaps it's still not enough.

When I look at the park from a high window in someone's building, I notice that the trees are much higher than I remember as a child. I love the fact that year by year, the trees in the park are older, larger, higher, leafier - and perhaps sadly, some are more fragile and dangerous.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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