SANTA ROSA, Calif. - One of six people is still in the hospital with serious injuries after a large tree branch unexpectedly snapped and fell onto a picnic area in Santa Rosa.
Two church groups gathered at Spring Lake Regional Park Saturday morning for a Bible study and barbeque when they described hearing a cracking sound and only having seconds to dodge or escape serious injury.
"I hear the crack and they hear the crack and everybody yelled, ‘move!’ said Pastor Khongsai Khiobouakham of Hessel Church in Sebastopol. "Scary. Everybody panicked a little bit."
Nearly 40 people from the Lao Thai community at Hessel Church in Sebastopol and Mienh Freewill Baptist Church in El Sobrante met in the shady picnic area under large trees for their annual meeting.
Despite no wind or rain, heavy branch split at least one picnic table in two and damaged several others. Nearly a dozen were sitting under or near the tree.
"Nobody was trapped but there were a number of patients," said Battalion Chief Matt Dahl with Santa Rosa Fire Department. "All were transported by ambulance to the hospital – five ambulances."
There were six people hurt including five adults and a 6-year-old boy, Dahl said.
Khiobouakham said Monday that a fellow pastor was hit by the branch and suffered a broken shoulder and another person has several broken ribs. He also said his wife jumped to the rescue of the 6-year-old.
"The little boy was there and she helped push the little boy out, to save the little boy," he said. "I thought the parks would be safe or maybe they might need to be inspecting all their trees."
Sonoma County Regional Parks said with years of drought and then saturating rains earlier this year, trees can soak up water so fast, limbs can be at risk of falling.
"While it’s impossible for us to insure the safety of every tree in every one of our parks, we do our best to assess trees when we feel like there’s an area of concern," Ranger Beth Wyatt said.
The entire picnic area at Spring Lake Regional Park is roped off with yellow caution tape and closed to the public for the foreseeable future because of what the regional parks called "environmental hazards."
For congregation members, the pastor said they’ve prayed for one another and are thankful no one lost their lives, including that little boy.
"I say God saved him," Khiobouakham said. "We believe God is the one watching over us."