The Mirror News

Community, services, friends pitch in after Boxing Day floods

MEMBERS of the Corner Inlet community and neighbouring districts, South Gippsland-based emergency and public services, friends and even holiday makers all pitched in together to help residents and businesses hit by 2023’s Boxing Day floods.

Victoria Police, Country Fire Authority brigades, State Emergency Service units, South Gippsland Water crews, South Gippsland Shire Council staff, and district cleaning, waste removal, logistics, and heavy machinery contractors were among those who started to arrive to tackle the enormous task of restoration even before the water had fully receded.

They worked alongside the local people to salvage what could be saved and to remove furniture, fittings, carpets and goods wrecked by water, mud and sewage, supplemented by willing volunteers, including passers-by who stopped and picked up a broom or a hose, and district farmers armed with tractors fitted with buckets, forks and  front-end loaders.

Heavy rain began late on Christmas afternoon, Monday December 25, 2023, after a day-long gale, and it continued all night and throughout Boxing Day, drenching the southern slopes of the Strzelecki Ranges, the Hoddle Range and the coastal strip from around Yarram to beyond Sandy Point.

Falls ranging from about 105 millimetres to well over 200 millimetres were recorded across the Corner Inlet district during the 24 hours, including 130 millimetres at Fish Creek, 180 millimetres just south of Foster, some 250 millimetres at Wonyip, and “more than seven inches in the old measure” at Balook.

The South Gippsland Highway was closed to traffic at Alberton after the gates beside the Albert River were shut when rainwater spilling down from the higher country caused most rivers and creeks to break their banks, with an incoming tide further compounding the resultant flooding.

A mudslide blocked Silcocks Hill Road at Toora for much of Boxing Day, and  the Hyland Highway north-east of Yarram was also impassable in places for quite some time on the same day.

The water level was still going up in the gardens and yards of lower-lying properties in Port Franklin, including some along Tramway Street, on Boxing Day morning, and reached its peak later that afternoon following a 125-millimetre dump of rain.

Sections of the Meeniyan-Promontory Road between Foster and Yanakie and Soldiers Road at Waratah North became temporary creek beds with water flowing along and over the sealed lanes, filling the table drains and coursing under fence lines.

The Boxing Day rains also resulted in an already existing sinkhole in Hazel Park Road north of Welshpool more than doubling in diameter and depth to consume almost the full width of the sealed surface, forcing the closure of the road.

The decking of the bridge spanning Muddy Creek in the grounds of the Toora Heritage Pear Orchard in Mill Street was completely submerged, with only its handrails visible above the brown rushing water.

Among the worst affected in the Corner Inlet district were homes and shops in Welshpool where the deluge saw the Main Street section of the South Gippsland Highway transformed from a major arterial thoroughfare to a surging river in the course of an hour or so on Boxing Day morning. 

Videos posted on social media showed water swirling around the verandah posts of the Welshpool Hotel, lapping at the base of the red letterbox outside the Welshpool Post Office, and reaching almost halfway up the bowsers of the town’s soon-to-be-reopened Shell service station.

About a dozen houses along the Woorarra Road and in Telling Court in the northern part of the township were also flooded, along with several more located in and south of Main Street.

Welshpool Outdoors proprietor and Welshpool and District Advisory Group president Eddie Fowler reported that “two-and-a-half feet of water” flowed through the light engine business’s showroom and workshop, ruining stock, computers, the telephone system and “nearly 50 years’ worth of electrical tools”.

“It was a similar situation at the pub and motel, as well as at many of the other buildings and houses along this side of the street,” he said.

“On the south side, the water went into the Welshpool Post Office and part of the residence, and the supermarket was affected the same, as was the petrol station, South Gippsland Concrete, and the opportunity shop.

“The Welshpool Rural Transaction Centre and the Myli Community Library at the back got flooded too, which meant that a lot of the books in there got wet, and the rest had to be taken away to make sure they’re properly dry,” Mr Fowler said.

“Because we’d had a fair bit of rain overnight I came into town at about 8.30 am on Boxing Day morning to check on a particular house in Telling Court, which we usually sandbag when Welshpool gets heavy rain, just in case.

“Outside the house was relatively dry, not wet enough to worry about, or so I thought, and because of that I went back home,” he said.

“None of us certainly didn’t expect the cloudburst to make the water rise so fast and so high; it was unreal seeing the town like that, with water running everywhere, when I returned a bit over an hour later, at 10 am.”

“What we saw happen in the Welshpool and Hedley areas after the deluge, and no doubt in other places, too, has been absolutely brilliant,” Mr Fowler said.

“Everyone just jumped in and helped,” he said.

“It all comes back to the generosity of the local people and of strangers; the farmer who had a spare house on their property, the rubbish skips that appeared in the street, the offers of food and accommodation, how people worked so hard; it will all take time, but we will get through.”

Welshpool Post Office licensees Alan O’Neill and Kath O’Meagher said they received “a couple of inches of water through the shop” and that the front and side of their house had also been impacted by the flooding, where the water seeped in.

“All of our furniture has been packed up and stored at the back of the house, which the water didn’t reach, and we’ve pulled up the carpet, which also copped a bit of the sewage going through the floodwater,” Mr O’Neill said.

“The rectification process is likely to involve pulling up and replacing the timber floors, spraying for mould, cutting out about 600 millimetres of plaster from the bottom of the walls in the flooded rooms, and putting in new power points.

“We’re waiting for the insurance assessors to make their reports, and while the house could get sorted out quite quickly, the shop might take a little longer,” he said.

“However we only lost one day, stripping the post office out and cleaning, and we’re open for business as usual, except for the 12-kilometre detour we have to make on the mail run to get around roads damaged by the water,” Mr O’Neill said.

“The other side of Main Street got it much worse than this side did, and the way the locals and even random people who we’d never seen before all of a sudden turned up asking if anyone needed a hand was just fantastic!”

Welshpool Hotel’s new proprietor Skye Dubignon said she and her family and friends had spent “eight weeks cleaning the pub when we took it over, then we were open for five weeks, and now we’ve been cleaning for another week since the flood, with a lot more still to go!

“The pub was open on Christmas night, and afterwards we went home to Toora, woke up the next morning to rain and 10 missed calls with photos and videos of the water around the pub,” she said.

“We were flooded in at Toora and when we got to Welshpool the water had gone, leaving mess and mud, so we had to do it all over again, only much more so!”

Ms Dubignon said the carpet and underlay throughout the pub and the motel had to be lifted and taken away despite the best efforts of commercial drying machines over the first two days after the flood.

“We all rallied together to get the pub back to an openable state, in time for our long-booked New Year’s Eve band the Alicia and Duffy Duo to play, and now we’ve got concrete floors that many places pay a lot to achieve and we’ve only had to thank Mother Nature!

“We may have to replace all of the furniture in the motel, as well as the lower level of the wood in the pub, like the bar, and the skirting boards and architraves, but we were really lucky the water didn’t reach the electrical board and meter box,” she said.

“Basically it’s a waiting game now, for the assessors to come in and do their job, and hopefully we can get the accommodation up and running again soon,  but for now, we’re open from Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, the beer is still cold, and the food is still good!”

South Gippsland Shire Council Flood Response 

South Gippsland Shore Council Chief Executive Officer Kerryn Ellis said the torrential rain on Boxing Day had impacted a number of South Gippsland communities.

“Alongside residents, businesses and nearby community members, Council officers have been working hard in response to the event from the day it occurred,” she said.

Ms Ellis provided information about the Council’s involvement in helping the people and the townships that have been affected by flood water 

“The Council’s response so far has included clearing and stabilising impacted council roads and removing silt and debris from roads and drains,” she said.

“The Council is supporting the relocation of some of the most impacted residents into temporary accommodation and is speaking with many of the most impacted residents and businesses, offering support and responding to requests.

“We are also providing additional waste removal for impacted homes and businesses and the general public, with support from QUBE and JJ Waste Services, and we’ve been working closely with Vic Police and the SES since Boxing Day to coordinate recovery efforts,” Ms Ellis said.

“We organised a Community Drop In session at the Welshpool Memorial Hall where support was provided by Red Cross, the Victorian Council of Churches Emergency Ministries and South Gippsland Shire Council,” she said.

“The Council is advocating to State Government for any financial support that may be provided to impacted residents and is seeking further financial support through the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund.

“Recovery from an event like this will take time,” Ms Ellis said.

“However with a united approach – and by embracing the willingness people have shown to jump in to lend a hand  – I’ve no doubt the impacted communities will bounce back stronger than ever.”


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