A baby boy whose pregnant mother was killed by a falling tree in Mid-Levels was struggling for survival last night as tree specialists called for a mandatory inspection of private trees and claimed most of those in the area were sick or poorly managed.
It also emerged yesterday that liability could rest with Henderson Land Development as the management company of the property from which the tree fell is a subsidiary of the developer.
Company records show that Martin Lee Ka-shing, younger son of Henderson chairman Lee Shau-kee, is a director of Hang Yick Properties Management.
The company manages Palm Court in Robinson Road where the falling tree killed Zhang Qin, 37, on Thursday.
A source close to the management company said a contractor was hired to take care of the tree regularly and the company had third-party insurance to cover possible claims. But a Hang Yick spokesman refused to comment.
Sombre residents in the area dropped off flowers and cards yesterday afternoon as a crew of tree management officials set to work removing the remains of the fallen Indian rubber tree, believed to have suffered from the infectious brown root rot disease, dubbed "tree cancer".
"I felt really upset, because we were driving here half an hour before, and it could have been us," said Holly, a 10-year-old Palm Court resident, as she darted under the police cordon to place a red rose on the modest pile.
She added that the accident had made her "a little" scared of similar dangers.
Chinese University professor and fungus specialist Chiu Siu-wai said after inspecting the tree that it had been attacked by fungi for at least five years.
"The fungi had climbed up to more than a metre from the ground," he said. "How could a qualified arborist fail to spot the danger?"
Ken So Kwok-yin, chief executive of the Conservancy Association and a member of the government's expert panel on tree management, said his observations showed 90 per cent of private trees in Mid-Levels were sick or poorly managed.
"Land owners have either planted large trees in small spaces or improperly pruned the trees, resulting in structural problems and infections," So said.
A tree protection law that required land owners to carry out regular inspections was necessary because existing regulations were insufficient, he said.
"On land without a tree-protection clause, the Lands Department can issue only a warning letter to land owners when a public complaint is lodged," So said.
His view was echoed by another expert on the panel, Professor Jim Chi-yung, who said the idea could be carried out in phases as there was a shortage of qualified arborists.
"Trees at high-risk locations and in poorer conditions should be targeted first," he said.
Kathy Ng Tze-kwun, principal assistant secretary for development, said she could not tell how many private trees were dangerous, adding that drafting a new law, as tree specialists have demanded, would require study and consultation.
At least four people have been killed by falling trees in Hong Kong the past decade.