Thousands without power as storm clean-up begins

An evacuation order has been lifted for a Gippsland town in the wake of a devastating storm in which a man was killed in floodwaters, but thousands of Victorians remain without power.

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A massive clean-up effort is under way after wild storms destroyed homes and left towns without power in parts of Victoria.

An evacuation order has now been lifted for Traralgon after residents from about 200 homes were urged to leave on Thursday night due to major flooding.

Residents can safely return to the Gippsland town, however moderate flood levels remain and multiple households have been damaged.

Fifteen emergency warnings still remain for the Riverine area, while 121,000 households around Victoria are still without power, according to authorities.

AusNet continue to warn it will be days before connectivity is restored to prosperities within their patch.

SES chief officer operations Tim Wiebusch said more than 7400 requests for assistance had been made across the state.

Mr Wiebusch said riverine flooding would start to set in, particularly in Gippsland. Thirty properties in Sale are at risk of flooding, and property owners of affected homes have been doorknocked by authorities.

A number of flood warnings remain in place.

Mr Wiebusch urged motorists to never drive through flood waters.

“It could be the last decision you make,” he said.

The Mount Dandenong Tourist Rd and the Maroondah Hwy between Healesville and Narbethong remain shut off as crews attempt to clear the wreckage.

CitiPower and Powercor, the electricity distribution networks who supply power to more than 1.1 million Victorian households, have restored power to about 200,000 customers.

The severe storms have contaminated drinking water for residents in the Ballarat region.

Trentham residents have been told by Coliban Water to not drink tap water until further notice.

Coliban Water said the weather had impacted their access to the Trentham Water Treatment Plant and a downstream burst water main.

It said this may cause ingress into the distribution system

“We currently have only 10 per cent storage at our Water Treatment Plant and we are at risk of running out overnight,” Coliban water said.

“If this happens, we may be unable to communicate with residents.

“(And) If there is a loss of pressure we cannot guarantee that the water is safe to drink”.

It said residents should not boil the water to drink, as it would not remove any potential contaminants if there was pressure loss in the system.

Coliban Water said the decision was made in consultation with the Department of Health.

MAN DIES IN FLOODWATERS

It comes after one man died and hundreds of thousands of residents across the state were affected by the wild winter storm, which brought down trees, cut power, damaged property and flooded homes.

The man, believed to be in his 60s, died when his car was almost submerged in floodwaters in the south Gippsland town of Woodside on Thursday.

A two-week-old baby was among 24 people rescued from homes isolated by floodwaters in Traralgon.

The threat of rising water remains across Gippsland on Friday, with major flood warnings in place for several rivers and towns in the region.

SES crews were scrambling to clear the debris, responding to 5000 calls statewide within 12 hours.

The storm blasted through the state’s southeast and into Melbourne and central Victoria, bringing overnight rainfall totals of almost 300mm in some locations.

Vic Emergency ­issued an “evacuate now” order to people in central Traralgon as the deluge turned the local creek into a raging torrent threatening 220 homes. A relief centre was set up at the Traralgon basketball centre.

In the Dandenongs, trees crashed on to at least 21 houses, while Trentham, near Daylesford, was cut off. Howling winds brought down trees, power lines and plunged thousands of homes into darkness.

Gusts of 119km/h were ­recorded at Puckapunyal.

The roof of the Axedale Tavern was ripped off only days after the pub reopened after being named as a Covid exposure site.

Owner Garry Van Wynen reckons he may be the unluckiest man in the state. “I don’t know what I’ve done,” he said.

Mt Tassie, south of Traralgon, received 267mm in the 24 hours to 9am Thursday, while nearby Balook had 215mm and Koornalla 170mm.

SES Victoria chief officer Tim Wiebusch said crews had performed about a dozen rescues of motorists stranded in floodwaters in Gippsland.

“We know from the statistics that driving through floodwaters is the No.1 thing that causes fatalities during flooding,’’ he said.

The Great Alpine Rd was closed because of a landslide. Floodwaters had also shut off the Princes Highway at Rosedale and Traralgon, while the Longford-Sale road was also unpassable.

Flooding expected in Gippsland towns downstream as water levels rose on the ­Latrobe, Macalister, Thomson and Avon rivers over the next 24 hours, he said.

Towns at flood risk overnight into Friday were Sale, Stratford, Wandocka, Rosedale and Tanjil South.

The Upper Yarra also received more than 100mm of rain, with flooding expected as far downstream as Abbotsford.

Trees due to be inspected by council officers were tagged with black strips.
Elaine Henderson said she began to panic and hyperventilate as her garage was destroyed.

“I was screaming, I thought we were going to die,” she said.

“I didn’t think we were going to get out.”

Her husband Wes Owen, with a group of men, cut the trees in the middle of the yard with chainsaws.
Gippsland woman Jenni Rohde was forced to pack up the essentials and evacuate from her Traralgon home due to rising floodwaters.

“It’s not good here … Traralgon is in serious trouble,” she said.

“Clothes, dogs, chickens and valuable items we want saved are all packed.”

Ms Rohde was unable to escape her estate, but was taken in by a neighbour on the other side of the paddock.

“We can now only sit, hope and pray for the best. I feel for those people already inundated,” she said.

“It’s awful just watching the water creep higher and higher knowing you’re powerless to stop it and help others.”

Ms Rohde said floodwaters appeared to have plateaued a little, but the peak was expected around 6pm Thursday.

“We’re bracing for what comes down the catchment from Calignee, Ballook and Mt Tassie.”
Ms Rohde has been living in Traralgon for more than two decades and said it’s the worst storm event she’s ever witnessed.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” she explained.

“This is a significant flood event. What’s happened is the catchment has got more than it normally would. I guess we’ve all been preparing for it, but last night it actually happened.”

Ms Rohde and her neighbours are bracing for more rain.

Traralgon resident Robyn Singleton captured amazing footage of raging floodwaters outside her George St home this morning.

“The stream is quite fast and high, I can’t see it slowing,” Ms Singleton said. “We can’t get out … we are completely stuck here.”

Ms Singleton said Traralgon Creek started to flood about 6am and then took the video at 8.30am.

“The front entry is flooded but that’s about it … we’re lucky the power hasn’t gone out.”

Ms Singleton works in the kitchen at Traralgon Hospital but the floods prevented her from attending work today.

“I can imagine there are other hospital workers who had to pull out of work today too.’’

The Great Alpine Rd has been closed by a landslide. Floodwaters have shut off the Princes Highway at Rosedale and Traralgon, and the Longford-Sale road is also unpassable.

DANDENONGS A ‘DEATH TRAP’

In the Dandenongs, the ­Olinda house, where an injured mother and her child were trapped by a fallen tree, was a scene of devastation. A large gum tree had crushed the middle section of the house.

Police officers, whose own vehicle had been stuck due to fallen trees, walked 1.5km to the home and rescued the pair, who were later taken to hospital. The boy was unhurt.

Family members returned briefly to the property on Thursday morning to collect belongings and examine the damage.

In Kalorama, a large tree cut the home of Leigh Burgess and his family in half about 5.30am on Thursday..

Concrete slabs on the driveway snapped as the tree’s roots were torn from the ground.

Mr Burgess said his daughter Aila had been sleeping in her room when the tree smashed through the plaster and knocked a mirror off the wall on top of her.

But the glass didn’t shatter and she escaped unscathed.

“We flew out of bed, a branch had come through our bedroom…Aila was still in her room and screaming, underneath the mirror,” he said.

Mr Burgess said his home had been damaged beyond repair and was no longer structurally sound.

“I can’t put into words how devastating it is,” he said.

“We just spent the last three years renovating it, to get it to a point where we were just in love with it.”

His wife and four children were uninjured.

The weather emergency prompted police to describe a Mt Dandenong suburb as a “death trap”.

Police said many residents were trapped in their homes, fearing trees around them and on nearby roads could collapse at any minute. Power lines and tree debris were strewn across a host of access roads.

Some families fled to the Kalorama reserve carpark to sleep in their cars. Residents were pleading for food and volunteers to help clean up.

Power lines are strewn across Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd, which has been blocked off at the Kalorama Oval.

“Shocked” Montrose resident Julie Ashton said she had never seen anything like this in 40 years.

Kalorama resident Sonia Matthews said her home managed to escape extensive damage after a tree came crashing down.

“I’ve never heard anything like it,” she said. “It was like a plane coming down or the sound of jets.”
In the Dandenongs town of Olinda, an injured mother and son were rescued on foot by Belgrave police after a falling tree trapped them in their double-storey home.

The desperate rescue came after an ambulance was crushed by a falling tree in nearby Sherbrooke, and police themselves also got isolated due to falling trees.

The woman called triple-zero just after 11pm after a large tree crashed through their home, extensively damaging the roof, with debris separating the trapped pair from each other.

Two ambulance crews were dispatched and a number of trees fell as they travelled along Sherbrooke Rd.

One tree struck the rear of one vehicle and blocked the path of the second ambulance.

The driver of the crushed ambulance, while shaken but uninjured.

The Belgrave police officers left their car and walked 1.5km to the home to rescue the duo.

SES volunteers cleared a road, and police from Olinda transported the mother and son to ambulance paramedics waiting in Sherbrooke.

They were taken to Maroondah Hospital in stable condition.

In Croydon, a tree fell on a house at 2am, trapping two people. A team of 20 firefighters, including rescue specialists, rushed to the scene.

In Traralgon, a family of four had to be rescued in a tinnie when raging floodwaters swept through their home, leaving them stuck.

Gemma Moran, Duane Blacker and their two young daughters were rescued by neighbours from their Tennyson St property.

“It took about 45 minutes for it to go from nothing in the backyard to nearly six inches high,” said Mr Blacker.

RELIEF AS THOUSANDS HAVE POWER RESTORED

More than 80,000 homes and businesses had their power restored on Thursday though some areas may go without electricity for days to come.

United Energy said extra crews were mobilised across Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs and the Mornington Peninsula as restoration efforts continued.

As of 5pm, the power company was responding to 801 faults and 289 fallen wires with more than 4,000 customers still off supply.

If a fallen powerline is spotted residents are urged to stay well away and report it immediately to 132 099.
Acting premier James Merlino said almost 245,000 homes had been affected by power outages across the state.

“This is a statewide emergency,” Mr Merlino said.

“If there is an emergency requirement to attend a property that can happen, but I’ll come back to you in terms of the exact details and circumstances.

“We do acknowledge that in an emergency scenario, obviously common sense flies.”

Continuing strong winds and dangerous conditions during Thursday would hamper crews’ ability to restore power to many homes, he said.

“Severe weather has caused power outages across the state. A large number of our customers are without power and are unlikely to have power restored until late tomorrow,” he said.

Fire Rescue Victoria told the Herald Sun on Wednesday night there were downed power lines throughout the city and they were isolating any dangerous sites until power crews were able to arrive.

GIPPSLAND RAVAGED ONCE AGAIN

Thousands of homes from Inverloch to Grantville are without power, with Nationals Gippsland South MP Danny O’Brien saying his electorate had been ravaged overnight.

Mr O’Brien was forced to leave parliament on Thursday morning to head home to Gippsland and monitor the situation from the ground.

“It’s been pretty serious right throughout Gippsland. There’s thousands of trees down, there’s flash flooding … Traralgon looks like it’s already going underwater,” he said.

“I’m heading home to keep an eye on it and hope for the best and that it’s not as bad as forecast, but certainly it’s been pretty badly hit.”

Mr O’Brien said power outages had affected at least 10,000 homes across the region.

And Bass Coast Health said its main Covid vaccination clinic would be closed because of the outages in Wonthaggi and hundreds of appointments booked for Thursday would have to be rescheduled.

The freak weather event comes after a difficult few years for the region.

“We’ve had bushfires, we’ve had Covid, we’ve had droughts and now we’ve got floods. We haven’t had pestilence yet, but that’s probably coming,” he joked.

“It is a difficult time. Let’s hope the floods are not as bad as forecast but it is still raining … it’s going to be a tough time.”

Mr O’Brien said the community spirit would be needed to help struggling towns bounce back.

“Gippsland is extraordinarily resilient. I think we’ve worked really hard, particularly throughout Covid. Gippslanders have done the right thing, they’ve banded together, they’ve supported their local businesses and that’s going to be needed after this.”

On the other side of the state, central Victoria wasn’t spared from the dangerous conditions.

— Contributing reporters: Ian Royall, Anthony Piovesan, Kiel Egging, Brooke Grebert-Craig and Miles Proust

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