Nooksack man asked tribe to cut down tree before it fell on his house

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 15, 2014 

VAN ZANDT - Rick George feared the tilting, rotting tree that loomed over his Emily Drive home, south of Deming.

He said he had asked the Nooksack Tribe, which owns the land, to remove the tree. The process to hire a tree removal company was still in the works when a storm hit the area.

Wind gusts topped 40 mph early Saturday, Jan. 11. Rick George and his wife, Lania, awoke about 2 a.m. to the crash of the tree caving in the roof.

George pulled his wife under him as the tree barreled into their bedroom and onto the spot where she had been sleeping.

Family friend Melinda Mendez, who was staying in George's home the night of the storm, ran into the room right after the tree fell to see George protecting his wife.

"He definitely saved her life," Mendez said.

The tree scratched and cut George's torso, severely enough to require a hospital visit. It heavily damaged the manufactured home, and with much of its roof missing, the interior and family belongings were exposed to rain.

The Georges are staying with friends. People have pitched in to help him clear tree branches from the home. The Mt. Baker Chapter of the American Red Cross provided his children with food, clothes and shoes.

Still, it stings him that the tribe, of which he's a member, didn't act sooner. He had complained about the tree long before the storm. With it leaning toward the home, he couldn't just chop it down for fear it would land on the roof.

"The tribe promised to cut the tree down," Mendez said. "Rick couldn't do it himself."

As of Wednesday, the tribe had not offered him any assistance, according to George. Tribal leaders did not return phone calls from The Bellingham Herald.

"I'm embarrassed to be a Nooksack," George said. "I feel like I'm not a Nooksack."

Still, he knows in some ways he's been very fortunate.

"I'm so grateful for all the people who have been able to help," George said. "I'm a little disappointed with certain agencies that haven't been able to help, but I'm just glad I'm alive and my family is OK."

Reach James Kozanitis at 360-715-2207 or james.kozanitis@bellinghamherald.com.

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