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Tree crashes onto Columbus Museum, putting collection at risk during Hurricane Michael

Wind and rain from Hurricane Michael topple tree onto Columbus Museum, damage roof over vault, expose some of collection to rain

Wind and rain from Hurricane Michael toppled a large oak tree and damaged the roof over the vault, a large climate-controlled space where the museum’s collection is stored.
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Wind and rain from Hurricane Michael toppled a large oak tree and damaged the roof over the vault, a large climate-controlled space where the museum’s collection is stored.

Columbus Museum officials were breathing a sigh of relief Thursday morning after a large oak tree fell and damaged the roof over the vault where much of the collection is stored.

“I don’t think we lost anything,” said Aimee Brooks, who is in charge of the museum’s collection at 1251 Wynnton Road.

The tree, which was in the garden area near the old public library, came crashing down around 8:45 p.m. Wednesday as Hurricane Michael was making its way into Columbus. It damaged the roof over the vault, a large climate-controlled space where the museum’s collection is stored.

Immediate action by the staff and Museum Director Marianne Richter limited the damage and saved many of the works inside the room.

“There was a security guard in the building as a precaution due to the storm,” Richter said. “We had asked them to stay overnight.”

The guard heard the crash, surveyed the damage and began making calls. By 9:15 p.m. much of the museum staff was on site working to get the works away from the water falling through the roof.

“We had 13 people and a board member in here moving things out of the vault and into a safer area,” Richter said.

They worked until after midnight to make sure the collection, anything from paintings to historic artifacts owned by the museum, were out of the way of the water, which was heavy at times.

Richter would not put a value on the works and artifacts at risk, but noted that about 90 percent of the museum’s collection is stored.

“Nothing looks to be badly damaged,” Richter said.

Brooks, who has worked at the museum for 17 years, said when she received the call, “it was pure panic.”

A contingency plan for flooding was in place, but this is not what museum officials expected.

“When we were thinking of all of the things that could happen, this was not one of the things that we were thinking about,” Richter said.

The museum building is owned and insured by the Muscogee County School District, but the collection is owned and insured by Columbus Museum Inc., a non-profit organization. School district officials were on site surveying the damage Thursday morning and a local tree crew was preparing to remove the tree. ServiceMaster Restore was on site cleaning the impacted area.

The museum was scheduled to be closed Thursday because the Columbus public schools were closed, but they plan to reopen by the weekend, Richter said.

One of the museum’s signature events, the Synovus Family Festival, is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and will be held as planned, Richter said. The free, annual event draws 1,200 to 1,300 people to make crafts and receive art supplies.

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