THE Corner Inlet community, right alongside those throughout South Gippsland, has rallied to help its own after the severe storm that raged overnight across much of Victoria on Wednesday June 9, 2021.
Parts of many localities, including Foster North, Toora North, Fish Creek, Turtons Creek, Stony Creek, Buffalo, Wonga, Wonyip, Woorarra and Mount Best were still without electricity and, in some places, telephone reception when this edition of The Mirror went to press.
Neighbours are looking out even more than usual for their neighbours, and local groups, organisations and businesses are working together to provide hot meals and showers, supplies of food and drinking water, telephone and device charging, and an internet connection to people without access to alternative power sources.
Manna Gum Community House and the South Gippsland Hospital Community Health Centre, both in Foster, were open at different times during Saturday and Sunday June 12 and 13 to welcome district residents needing support.
Foster Foodworks Supermarket’s Gerald and Katherine Finn, and Foster Pharmacy’s Chi Chiu, were among those local business owners who operated their premises by torchlight during last Thursday’s blanket blackout to ensure locals could get essential foodstuffs and medicines.
Households shared generators, the members of a district cycling group began the huge job of clearing fallen trees from the Great Southern Rail Trail, and the Toora Lions Club served a barbecue to the Woodside community.
Volunteers turn out
The volunteer members of South Gippsland’s Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) units and Country Fire Authority (CFA) brigades turned out in response to hundreds of calls for assistance after the storm caused an unprecedented amount of damage to the region’s roads, properties and facilities.
They worked in tandem with South Gippsland Shire Council, Wellington Shire Council, DELWP Gippsland, Forest Fire Management Victoria, AusNet Services, VicRoads and local contractors, as well as with a rolling succession of reinforcement VICSES task forces and teams brought in from across the state.
Leongatha VICSES Unit controller Matt Saario said the Leongatha unit was “looking after the whole of the South Gippsland area at the moment.
“We started receiving requests for assistance (RFAs) around midday last Wednesday and there have been three or four volunteer SES crews out working with the Shire and with VicRoads to clear roads and restore access to people’s properties,” he said.
“We’re glad that more resources have arrived from the VICSES central region in the Melbourne area and from other parts of Victoria, and now we’ve got a heap of boots on the ground that are literally smashing through the stuff.
“I’ve never seen such an amount of damage as there is left behind after last week’s storm,” Matt said.
“Calls for help are still coming through, and so far VICSES has logged more than 7500 RFAs around the state on our 132 500 incident reporting line, with crews doing absolutely their best to attend as efficiently and effectively as they can,” he said.
“We want to give a huge thank you to all of our VICSES peers who have given up work and family time to support the community.”
Storm hits shire ‘pockets’ hard
A South Gippsland Shire Council spokesman said “pockets” of the municipality were “hit particularly hard” during last Wednesday’s storm.
“Well over 100 roads have been affected, either with trees, or flooding, or both, and some were impacted by multiple fallen trees,” the spokesman said.
“Incidents were reported across the Shire but there were pockets that seemed to be hit particularly hard, including Turtons Creek, Dumbalk, Meeniyan, Stony Creek, Foster North, Berrys Creek and the Bass Valley Road area.
“We also have land slips on Turtons Creek Road and McCartins Road,” they said.
“Council crews have been out responding to incidents day and night since Wednesday afternoon, with more than 90 Council staff attending to incidents, alongside 11 contractors.”
Ausnet striving to restore network
AusNet Services spokesperson Helena Lilley said about 200,000 eastern Victorian properties were left without electricity last Wednesday night June 9, 2021, with power restored to some 175,000 addresses by Sunday June 13.
Properties affected by the outages were located in a wide swathe, from outer eastern metropolitan Melbourne across to South Gippsland and Bass Coast and throughout the central Gippsland region as well as parts of the Central Highlands and south-western Victoria.
“Two days’ straight of wild storm conditions led to widespread supply failure, and AusNet crews are striving to restore the network as fast as they can,” Ms Lilley said.
“Significant wind gusts as well as heavy driving rain in many areas caused extensive damage, with trees and branches bringing down power poles and lines, and the floods impacting supply in Gippsland,” she said.
“AusNet crews have worked around the clock since Wednesday evening, through the severe weather, which continued without let-up during the night and the following day, making conditions dangerous for the crews.
“They’ve been dealing with lines and other infrastructure brought down and broken by trees, and the wind and rain, along with soggy ground and poor access, and there are still some parts we can’t reach as yet,” Ms Lilley said.
“When the weather conditions allow, AusNet’s helicopters are out inspecting the network and reporting back to our ground crews.”
Ms Lilley said the scale of the repair task facing AusNet crew was still immense, and that some customers may not have power returned “until well into the weekend or perhaps even longer.”
AusNet has provided supplies of drinking water and batteries, which are available at Manna Gum Community House, along with a public device-charging station set up in the Foster IGA Supermarket.
Clean-up “will take months”
Cleaning up all of the trees brought down beside and over roads and on private properties throughout South Gippsland Shire during last Wednesday’s storm “will take months”, according to Meeniyan-based contractor Clean Cut Tree Services.
Clean Cut’s Jason Dowel and Peter Boyle said they had begun removing trees from roads under contract to the shire last Wednesday night.
“We’ve been working alongside shire outdoor staff and VicRoads crews between Meeniyan and Foster since then,” they said.
“We started on the South Gippsland Highway and moved on to clear Falls Road between the highway and Fish Creek, then to O’Gradys Ridge Road at Foster North.
“Now we’re finishing off the job the shire started of re-opening McGleads Road between O’Gradys Ridge Road and Gardiners Road in Foster,” Jason said.
“The older shire outdoor staff were saying that the storm was one of the worst they’d ever seen, and that the clean-up is going to take months.”