Close call at Abbey Hall: students almost hit by falling tree branch

Graphic by Penelope Tayler ’20

Graphic by Penelope Tayler ’20


“I will not be killed by a tree branch.” That was the thought that went through sophomore Xiomara Nunez’s head on the night of Oct. 10 outside Abbey Hall as she planted her feet and pulled Francesca Ferri ’20 out of the path of the descending limb. 

Nunez and Ferri had just left Buckland Hall and were heading to dinner at Blanchard Campus Center around 7 p.m. on Oct. 10 when Nunez said she heard a cracking sound overhead. The sound — which Ferri compared to a quiet rumble of thunder — occurred as they were passing to the right of a large pine oak tree outside of Buckland Hall by Woolley Circle. Seconds later the branch ripped away from the tree and the pair found themselves in the direct path of the falling limb.

Nunez recalls thinking, “There’s no way this tree is about to fall” as the branch began its descent. 

“It was a pretty large, leafy branch, which made it look scarier as it was falling,” she said. 

It was so unexpected that Ferri continued walking forward until Nunez pulled her back. Fortunately, both students walked away unscathed. 

A third student was walking a little ways in front of Nunez and Ferri. They cried out to warn her, and Nunez said the other student was able to move out of the way just in time before the branch fell between them. 

After checking that the others were alright, Ferri said she made a call to Campus Police who informed Facilities Management of the incident. 

Grounds Supervisor for Facilities Management & Planning, David Barthelette, confirmed that two Mount Holyoke grounds employees arrived soon after the incident at about 8 p.m. to clear away the broken limb. He also reported the size of the branch to be 14 inches in diameter and 25 feet in length. The grounds employees moved the branch and loose sticks out of the road. It was placed on the grass by the tree, where the limb was chopped up in the chipper the following day.  

The incident left all three students in shock. Narrowly avoiding a falling tree limb was something they had never experienced before on campus or elsewhere, and hope that they never will again.

Sarah McCool ’18, a resident of Buckland Hall, noticed the fallen tree on the way back to her dorm from Blanchard. She said that when she walked by, Campus Police was present and that they had roped off the area where the branch fell.

“I was surprised to turn around and see a tree in the middle of the road,” said McCool. “It looked like it had fallen, either on or in front of a car, which looked unfortunate. I’m just glad that nobody got hurt!”

Paul Breen with Facilities Management and Planning provided insight into how Facilities Management handles situations of fallen trees and branches. The College has about 1100 trees on the 175 maintained acres of the campus. 

Breen said that last fall Facilities Management secured the assistance of an expert who helped to assess trees that needed to be removed or pruned for safety reasons. 

“All of those trees that were recommended to be taken down, were taken down,” said Breen. “I believe significant pruning on the designated trees also happened. Also, Facilities Management does its best to keep an eye on trees during the day to day maintenance of the campus.”

 Breen explained that if a branch falls during the work day, the Facilities Management Grounds Crew will respond on the same day that it falls. However, if a branch falls at night and Campus Police notices it, the incident is reported to Facilities Management so that it can be dealt with as soon as possible. 

He also emphasized that Facilities Management works hard to keep those on campus safe from falling trees and branches. “Facilities Management does its best so that the students should not have to worry about falling trees and branches. There are 1100 trees however, and despite our best efforts, an occasional branch does come down.”