A giant tree that towered over Sierra Leone’s capital for centuries and symbolized freedom to its early residents came down overnight during a heavy rainstorm.
President Julius Maada Bio called the toppling of the famed tree “a great loss to the nation” as crowds gathered to look at the wrecked trunk.
The “Cotton Tree” was the most important landmark in the West African country which was founded by freed American slaves.
It is believed that when those slaves arrived by boat in the late 1700s, they gathered under its branches to offer prayers before moving into their new home.
“It was regarded as a symbol of liberty and freedom by early settlers,” the president wrote on Twitter.
“We will have something at the same spot that bears testament to the great Cotton Tree's place in our history. All voices will be brought together for this.”
The kapok tree stood in the middle of a roundabout in central Freetown near the national museum and the president’s office.
Passerby Victor Tutu Rogers told Reuters he saw the tree fall around 9:40 p.m. (2140 GMT) on Wednesday.
“The wind was blowing, the rain got heavy. I dashed round the cotton tree on my way from work, because I feared the branches might fall,” he said.
“Shortly after that there was a heavy lightning and I heard a heavy bang - the sound of the tree falling behind me.”
By Thursday, the branches and debris had been cleared away, leaving only a stump.
“As a municipality it was very much symbolic, the place where we hold our annual thanksgiving every November to offer prayers and for many other events,” the city’s Chief Administrator, Festus Kallay, said.
“The Freetown skyline will hardly be the same again.”