WILD weather created havoc across Victoria last week, with Gippsland one of the worst affected areas. Gale force winds raging all through Thursday and into Friday blew huge branches and entire trees onto powerlines, cars and buildings. In many cases the trees blocked roads and driveways, making driving hazardous at the very least, impossible in some cases.
Because of the perilous driving conditions, the Education Department made the decision to halt the school bus run in the Foster district (as well as around Leongatha) on Thursday afternoon and right through Friday. The teachers had to phone all the parents and ask them to collect their children.
“One dad had to chainsaw his way through three fallen trees just to reach Ameys Track, before making his way into Foster to collect his child,” said Foster Primary School principal Lorraine Gurnett.
Four trees in the school playground were blown down or lost significant branches in Thursday’s wild winds, and teachers were kept busy ensuring curious children kept out of harm’s way. There were more trees down in the grounds of South Gippsland Secondary College.
Just after 11.30 on Thursday morning, Toora CFA was called to the main road into Port Franklin, where the wind had blown a tree onto the powerlines, bringing them down to the ground and starting a grass fire. Foster CFA assisted with extinguishing the fire. The crew found it a challenge to keep a safe distance from the live powerlines and also avoid other power lines threatening to blow down in the high winds. However, SPAusnet contractors attended promptly and helped remove the trees and disconnect the power. The power was out for some time at Port Franklin – as it was at many places across the district as the winds howled – but was quickly restored.
The Foster CFA crew had no sooner returned to Foster when they were called to Fullers Road, where another tree had brought down powerlines. They assisted at the scene by controlling traffic until police arrived. There was a similar incident in Gardiners Road, Foster. It was difficult for the CFA to reach that site because of fallen trees on the road. However, Council crews worked swiftly to remove the trees and allow safe passage for traffic.
Emergency services workers laboured from early Thursday until late into the night and even the next day dealing with the damage wrought by the winds.
From Thursday through to Saturday SES units across Gippsland received 678 calls for assistance. Foster SES alone received 49 calls, with 11 relating to building damage or trees down in driveways or blocking access.
“This was an unusually high number of building damage calls, and the SES would like to remind people to carry out preventative maintenance by clearing trees and securing loose items around the property during storms,” said SES Foster controller David Bartley.
Foster SES deputy controller Matt Wallis, working with just two other volunteers until assistance arrived from the Wonthaggi SES, was flat out from 8am to midnight Thursday attending to the local callouts, which extended from Waratah Bay to Mardan and east to Welshpool.
“The area between Mardan and Fish Creek was particularly devastated, but the damage was widespread,” said Mr Wallis. “Power was out across a large swathe of the country north of Foster. It was the worst day we’ve seen this year.”
At one point the Foster SES was called to the old bank building in Toora’s main street, where the powerline had been ripped away in the wind. They secured the area while SPAusnet worked on repairs.
SES volunteers at Leongatha responded to 79 requests for help, while units located in the Latrobe Valley were amongst the busiest in the region, with 123 callouts at Warragul and 106 at Morwell.
Gusting up to 130km/hr, the winds were often strong enough to bring down the largest of trees. In some of the more serious incidents, a tree fell on a house at Mirboo North, windows were blown out of a house at Thorpdale, a roof was blown off a Moe South house and a carport collapsed, damaging vehicles parked underneath. Trees were blown across railway lines near Sale and Yarragon.
In many cases the SES volunteers worked alongside shire work crews and VicRoads contractors.
South Gippsland Shire Council’s Customer Service team fielded over 400 calls on Thursday, which resulted in road crews attending to 113 roads with trees or branches over them, clearing extensive unreported debris along the way to get to their destinations.
Some roads, including Turtons Creek Road, Central Road, Foster-Boolarra Road, Forresters Road (Hallston) and Nicholls Road (Mardan) had to be closed, as the fallen trees were too big to tackle to tackle while the wild winds were still raging.
The high winds brought down some massive branches in Yanakie Caravan Park. Council closed the park for several days on Friday to allow crews to remove the worst of the debris without hindrance from or risk to patrons. Fortunately there were no visitors in the park at the time and the one annual tenant at the park was relocated to a cabin out of the danger area. The park is expected to re-open later this week.