ALREADY sodden South Gippsland copped another deluge last Thursday.
Heavy rain fell steadily all day – 57mm was recorded at Foster and 58.5mm at Welshpool – and with the countryside already saturated after months of high rainfall the water could not soak in but spread – across paddocks, gardens, parks and roads. Drivers faced perilous trips through water on the lowest lying roads. Parts of Welshpool, Hedley, Toora and Port Franklin were inundated and the South Gippsland Highway was cut in several places, including Hedley and Alberton.
State Emergency Service volunteers were kept busy all afternoon, putting 100 to 150 sandbags around properties at Foster, Toora, Hedley and Welshpool. The water crept into a few houses, soaking carpets, but the flood situation at Foster at least was never quite as serious as some rather over-dramatic statewide news reports led people to believe.
Matt Wallis from Foster SES said the emergency service received 15 call-outs. Four volunteers from Leongatha SES kindly assisted the six from Foster in laying down sandbags, mainly as a preventative measure.
“In many cases houses came within centimetres of being flooded. The old general store at Hedley was hit particularly hard. There were properties flooded beside Muddy Creek at Toora, where the bridge was damaged, at Welshpool and Port Welshpool,” said Mr Wallis.
Busy from about 2pm to 7.30pm, the SES also pumped out storm water and checked on residents.
The most dramatic damage was sustained by the Boolarra-Foster Road. A section of road – about 12 kilometres north of the South Gippsland Highway, near Schmidts Road – was completely washed away. This was by far the worst of several major landslips in the hills north of Foster and has cut the road indefinitely, forcing drivers to take an alternative route between Foster and the Grand Ridge Road. It follows the closure of the Foster-Mirboo Road, also due to a major land slip, late last month. Turtons Creek Road is also cut. Full details of road closures can be seen on the South Gippsland Shire and VicRoads websites.
The pressure of debris-filled water forced the guard rail beside Victoria Street in Toora up and over the road, blocking the road for some time. There was considerable water over the Lower Toora Road, forcing a funeral procession headed for the Toora cemetery to be diverted to the highway and Dorans Road.
At Fish Creek, access to the Harding Lawson Road was cut when the intersection with the main road, including the park with the rotunda, flooded. The water level rose to the base of the bridge, but didn’t quite go over.
At Foster the waters of Stockyard Creek rose sharply. Fearing the fast-flowing waters would inundate the bridge behind Foster Primary School, shire officers advised the school to close the bridge, which provides access to Station Road.
With water across many roads in the district, authorities at the secondary college decided to cancel several of the afternoon school buses. Six did not run on Thursday afternoon. Parents were invited to collect their children at a convenient time, and a further bus did not run the next day, although quite a few children managed to get to school anyway.
The situation was particularly dramatic at Welshpool Primary School. Principal Geoff Cooling said that no buildings were affected, fortunately, but the highway out the front of the school was under as much as 40 centimetres of water in some places and some of the river of water flowed through the school grounds.
“Late in the morning we contacted parents and gave them the option of collecting their children early as we were concerned that access could get worse if the rain continued. All the children were collected and the school bus was cancelled that afternoon,” said Mr Cooling.
Meanwhile, Welshpool resident Jeanie Causon had the fright of her life as she attempted to negotiate the flooded South Gippsland Highway. Ms Causon had been working in Yarram but decided to head home early while the highway was still open. She was driving along the highway between Yarram and Welshpool when her car spun out of control – aquaplaning in water which at one point reached almost to the car doors. Reaching Welshpool shaken but otherwise unhurt, Ms Causon found that town swamped, too. There was water across all the lowest lying sections – the main road, the school car park and behind the shops. Concerned staff at the local supermarket decided to shift stock to higher ground and prepared to sandbag, but fortunately this proved unnecessary.
“The old stables belonging to Sutherlands got the worse of it,” said Ms Causon, who went for a walk with her camera and sent some photos to The Mirror. “The water dropped remarkably quickly, though. By the next morning it was as if it had all been a dream!”
It won’t surprise anyone to know that South Gippsland Water’s storages are universally full. The rainfall recorded at the various storages last week was: Deep Creek (Foster) 133mm, Battery Creek (Fish Creek) 139mm, Ruby Creek (Leongatha) 93mm, Coalition Creek (Korumburra) 124mm, Lance Creek (supplies Wonthaggi, Inverloch and Cape Paterson) 108mm and Little Bass (Poowong, Nyora, Loch) 100mm.