Sierra Leone's Historic Cotton Tree Destroyed by Storm

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A giant cotton tree which has stood for several hundred years in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, has been brought down by a heavy storm.

A giant, 400-year-old tree that served as a symbol of freedom in Sierra Leone has been destroyed in a storm, authorities said on Thursday.

President Julius Maada Bio said the tree fell after a downpour on Wednesday night. He described it as a "great loss to the nation".

He said the tree was a symbol of liberty for early settlers. It also appears on Sierra Leone banknotes.

But some Christians hailed its demise, saying it was used for witchcraft.

Lovingly referred to as "Cotton Tree," the 70-meter (230-foot) tall, 15-meter (50-feet) wide Ceiba pentandra has long been a symbol of the country.

It is believed that the enslaved people who won their freedom by fighting with the British in the American War of Independence prayed under the tree when they eventually settled in West Africa in the end of the 18th century.

"All Sierra Leoneans will pause for thought at the loss of such a prestigious national symbol as Cotton Tree," President Julius Maada Bio said on Thursday.

According to report, A heavy rainstorm a week ago caused one of the tree's branches to fall, but it had been thought it would survive.

However, in another storm on Wednesday, the entire tree came down, leaving just part of the trunk still standing.

The 70m (230 ft)-high cotton tree was said to be the oldest of its kind in the country - a government statement estimated it to be 400 years old.

Just 300m away are the Freedom Steps, climbed by newly arrived freed slaves who offered prayers at the tree before making Freetown their home.

As the city grew over the years, it expanded around the ancient tree at its heart.

President Julius Maada Bio and other officials are expected to visit the site to determine what to do.

"We will have something at the same spot that bears testament to the great Cotton Tree's place in our history," he tweeted.

"All voices will be brought together for this."

The trunk and roots remain in place, suggesting that new shoots could grow into a new tree.

Other suggestions include taking a piece of the tree to the nearby national museum or making a carving out of it.

Many people feel sad about the tree's fall, with some describing the incident as "horrific".

Government press agency Zabek International compared the loss to the fire that destroyed the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in 2019.

After diggers cleared the wreckage on Thursday, all that was left behind was a stump.

"The Freetown skyline will hardly be the same again," said Freetown's Chief Administrator Festus Kallay.

Bio promised to include "all voices" to create a new monument at the same spot, and also discussed preserving remnants of the tree.

"There is no stronger symbol of our national story than the Cotton Tree, a physical embodiment of where we come from as a country," Bio told the Associated Press.

"Nothing in nature lasts forever, so our challenge is to rekindle, nurture, and develop that powerful African spirit for so long represented."