“As far as we’re concerned, it’s a miracle that someone didn’t lose his life,” said the Rev. Michael Hall, pastor of the Peoples Church.
D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Pete Piringer said that at about 1:45 p.m., children enrolled in the church’s Children’s Vacation Bible Camp were playing and having a picnic at Garfield Park when a “tree-size” branch fell from a large oak directly onto the group.
Two counselors suffered serious injuries and were taken from the park, in the 600 block of Third Street SE, to a hospital, Piringer said.
Three children were also taken to a hospital with serious but less severe injuries.
Hall said a 17-year-old youth was unconscious for about a half-hour.
A 51-year-old man suffered a hand injury, and the children had “just bruises.”
The tree is a large oak that is about 70 years old, according to officials. The fallen branch, which officials described as having the same thickness as an average tree, was still in the park Tuesday evening, behind yellow caution tape. City parks workers planned to move it Wednesday, officials said.
Because the tree is in a city park, its care and maintenance are the responsibility of the District’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Spokesman John Stokes said Tuesday that the agency has a chief landscaper but no arborists.
The city Department of Transportation has a forestry unit with 35 staffers who are responsible for the roughly 134,000 trees on city streets.
Two of that agency’s arborists went to Garfield Park on Tuesday and inspected the tree from the ground, said spokesman John Lisle.
Stokes said he visited the injured children and adults at the hospital.
He said they had bruises and lacerations but that everyone was awake and talking. “It looked like everyone was going to be okay,” he said.
Stokes said those who were injured told him that the children were playing a marching game when they heard a cracking sound. The branch fell soon after.
Rev. Hall said he understood that the limb, about 40 feet long, fell “in a freak accident.” It was, he said, “apparently a very healthy tree,” and there was no breeze to trigger any fall.
But he said, “nobody panicked.” He said he was “proud of all the volunteers.”