East coast rain brings a drenching

Sarah Luke

AN autumn deluge has dumped more than 100 millimetres in 24 hours across some parts of Wellington Shire this week, causing flash flooding, closing a school and prompting warnings from authorities.

At the time the Gippsland Times went to print on Thursday morning, 90.2mm of rainfall had been recorded at East Sale since Tuesday morning, and 144.2mm at Yarram Airport.

East Sale recorded 32.4mm on Tuesday, and by the time most people had woken up at 7am Wednesday, an additional 41.2mm had fallen since midnight.

Yarram Airport recorded nearly 120mm in 24 hours on Wednesday – possibly the town’s highest daily total since 1954, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s records.

Flash flooding in the shire’s south forced the closure of Yarram Secondary College on Wednesday, with the school crediting the closure to “extreme weather, excessive flooding at the school and staff being unable to get to work”.

Students were back by Thursday morning, but several of the school’s buses were still unable to run their usual routes.

As local rain gauges began to fill on Tuesday, South Gippsland Water issued a warning to Yarram residents to delay any use of their dishwashers and washing machines to reduce the amount of grey water entering through Yarram Pump Station, with higher levels of grey water and storm water passing through than usual.

A flood warning was issued for the Thomson and Latrobe rivers, Traralgon Creek, and several rivers in South Gippsland on Wednesday morning.

While flood levels for most of central Gippsland’s rivers remained steady at below minor on Thursday morning, authorities warned river rises were expected and urged residents to stay informed, monitor local conditions and remain alert approaching the weekend.

Many of the shire’s southern roads were already flooded by Wednesday morning, with Merrimans Creek Rd in Gormandale reportedly “a raging river” and Won Wron Rd blockaded near Devon North as the Tarra River broke its banks.

Yarram’s Pound Rd was still closed between the South Gippsland Highway and Woranga School Rd yesterday morning because of flooding, and Billy Creek Rd was also under at Stacey’s Bridge, prompting a reminder from authorities that only 15 centimetres of water was enough to float a vehicle, and motorists should never drive into flood water.

About 600 customers in Maffra were affected by a power outage on Wednesday morning, with AusNet Services working into the afternoon to resolve the issue.

As a severe weather warning for damaging winds and heavy rainfall was issued locally on Tuesday afternoon, SES volunteers were kept busy around eastern Victoria, with 97 requests for assistance between 3.40pm on Tuesday and 3.40pm on Wednesday.

A SES spokesperson confirmed the eastern region had been the busiest in the state, with 73 trees down, 11 counts of building damage, nine flood call-outs and two road rescues during that time.

Yarram’s unit was called to 26 jobs, and Loch Sport’s to 12.

While the wild weather wreaked havoc for some, many grateful farmers gleefully reported plenty of runoff flowing into dams and creeks in the Giffard West and Stradbroke areas.

“That’s something we haven’t seen for years,” one reader commented on the Gippsland Times Facebook page.

“104mm in Stradbroke, so desperately needed,” wrote another.

Giffard West farmer Lisa Harrison happily reported her local Hoddinotts Creek was overflowing, and the 110mm of rain her property had received in 23 hours was “the most we have had in one day in the 24 years we have been here”.

More than 130mm had reportedly fallen in Giffard West by Wednesday night – about the same amount as what the region received in the last three months of 2020.

The cause of the March downpour was a deepening low pressure system off the coast of east Gippsland, which slowed down over Bass Strait during Wednesday, causing steady rain to settle in.

Luckily, the region only just caught the tail end of the system that has devastated New South Wales and Queensland – causing thousands of evacuations and prompting Australian Defence Force relief efforts – and was spared the full brunt of its force.