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Storms topple California's iconic tunnel tree

LOS ANGELES, Jan 10, 2017 (BSS/AFP) - Rain storms lashing Northern California in recent days have toppled a historic tree that was a major tourist attraction for its hollowed out trunk which cars could drive through.

Thought to be more than 1,000 years old, the Pioneer Cabin Tree, a giant sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, was felled over the weekend, park officials said.

A volunteer at the park, located southeast of Sacramento, said the tree toppled Sunday afternoon and shattered as it hit the ground, unable to withstand fierce winds and heavy rain.

"We lost an old friend today. The Pioneer Cabin Tree, or drive-thru tree, succumbed to nature and toppled," the volunteer, Jim Allday said in a Facebook posting accompanied by pictures of the fallen sequoia.

The so-called tunnel tree was hollowed out in the 1880s -- when there was apparently already a gaping gash at the base -- and since then had become a major tourist attraction.

Allday's wife, Joan Allday, told the San Francisco Gate that the tree had been weakening and leaning to one side for several years.

"It was barely alive, there was one branch alive at the top," she said. "But it was very brittle and starting to lift."

The tree toppled as fierce storms lashed the northern part of California and the state of Nevada over the weekend causing flooding, power outages and mudslides in some areas.

The National Weather Service said another strong storm bringing heavy rain was expected to hit the area on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The bad weather -- part of a weather system called the "Pineapple Express" -- has forced the closure of Yosemite National Park.

Residents in Cambria, near the famous Hearst Castle located along California's central coast, have meanwhile been advised to move to higher ground because of a flash flood warning.

One positive aspect of the storms is that they are expected to bring a much welcome respite to a six-year drought in California that has killed more than 100 million trees.