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California storm fells historic sequoia ‘tunnel tree’

An ancient giant sequoia tree, with a hollowed-out tunnel big enough for cars to drive through, was toppled over the weekend by floods following a series of powerful rain storms in central and northern California.

The historic Pioneer Cabin Tree, named for the tunnel that was carved out of its base in the 1880s, fell in Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Calaveras County, a nonprofit group associated with the park said on Sunday.

The trail around the tree was flooded due to severe rain, and forecasters expect another half foot of rain to soak parts of California and the Sierra Nevada mountains through early Tuesday.

“The Pioneer Cabin tree has fallen! This iconic and still living tree — the tunnel tree — enchanted many visitors,” the Calaveras Big Trees Association said on its Facebook page. “The storm was just too much for it.”

The tree was along a 1.5 mile trail, and graffiti dating back to the 1800s was etched along its tunnel walls. In recent years, only hikers were allowed to pass through the tunnel, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

People were walking through the tunnel as recently as Sunday morning before the tree was felled, park volunteer Jim Allday told the San Francisco Chronicle. It went down at about 2 p.m. local time and shattered on impact, he said.

“When I went out there (Sunday afternoon), the trail was literally a river, the trail is washed out,” Allday told the newspaper. “I could see the tree on the ground, it looked like it was laying in a pond or lake with a river running through it.”

The age of the tree could not immediately be confirmed Monday. Giant sequoias can live for more than 3,000 years and are known as the largest trees in the world by volume, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

The sequoia likely fell because of a combination of the flood waters and a shallow root system that was only about two or four feet deep, the Chronicle said.

The tree was an icon that captivated the park’s 200,000 annual visitors. More than 1,500 Facebook users commented under the Calaveras Big Trees Association’s Facebook page, sharing memories and photos of the tree.

Another famous “drive-through” tree, the Wawona Tunnel Tree in Yosemite National Park, fell during the winter of 1969.

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