Concerns flooding could block the Princes Highway between Sale and Stratford

On June 4, 2012, up to 200mm of rain fell across Gippsland in one day, causing floods that closed the Princes Highway between Rosedale and Traralgon, the South Gippsland Highway between Sale and Longford, and isolating more than 100 properties. Flood waters began to recede on June 22. File photo

THE State Emergency Service’s chief officer of operations has concerns flooding expected locally could block the Princes Highway at Sale and Stratford.

In a press conference this afternoon, the SES’s Tim Wiebusch said the organisation’s volunteers had already responded to 180 requests for help across the state, but the SES was expecting that number to increase significantly.

“We’re advising people to make sure they have an alternative route, particularly if you’re in east Gippsland, and through the western and southern parts of Gippsland, where we may see local road closures over the coming days,” he said.

“In particular, we have concerns for the Princes Highway at Sale and Stratford, which may be closed due to flooding in the next few days.

“On Thursday and into the weekend, we’ll then start to see our rivers rise across particularly western and southern Gippsland, and also to a minor level in eastern parts of Gippsland.”

“In the next 24 hours as well we would also be asking all Victorians to consider their need to travel into these areas,” he said.

Mr Wiebusch stressed people should not attempt to enter flash flooding in their vehicles, as “it could be the last decision you ever make”.

He re-emphasised emergency services were expecting flooding similar to levels seen after an east coast low passed over Gippsland in 2012.

“June 2012 is a really good correlation for the event we’re starting to see unfolding – particularly for Gippsland, but also we’ll see impacts in the upper Yarra catchments,” he said.

“We’re asking people, particularly in those areas, to be alert to their conditions on the road, and to think back to what it was like in 2012, particularly if you live in some of those areas in Gippsland.”

Mr Wiebusch said sandbagging properties was not the only line of defence against flooding.

“One of the best things you can be doing right now is preparing your property – lifting items that are your valuables to a higher area in your home, or removing them from your property altogether,” he said.

The chief officer of operations said bushfire-affected areas were an area of concern for the SES in coming days, particularly with the heavy rainfall.

“We could see debris flows, we could also see landslides – we’ve already seen some low level landslides on the Great Alpine Rd over the past 24 hours, and there is the potential that that road could become closed for short periods over the coming days,” he said.

Bureau of Meteorology emergency services meteorologist Kevin Parkyn said the east coast low during June 2012 caused the Latrobe River to break its banks.

“I’m not saying that’s going to happen this time, but the rain rates and totals look very similar indeed,” Mr Parkyn said.

“In terms of significance, in terms of a severe weather event affecting Victoria, I am quite concerned.

“If we compare similar rainfall totals to previously in west and south Gippsland, we have to think back to June 2012.

“We have had heavy rain events, but at this sort of magnitude in that part of the world, that’s probably the most significant event in recent times.

“The rain we’ve seen already across the state has mostly occurred in western and central parts, in fact we saw some local falls of 50mm in the west of the state, but in terms of rainfall in Gippsland it’s only just started.

“… in terms of the catchments that are likely to see these heavy rainfall totals over the next 12-18 hours, we’re thinking the Avon, the Macalister, the Thomson, the Latrobe rivers, and even the tributaries that feed off the Strzelecki Ranges as well. There will be other rivers in minor flooding.

“They’re all going to be at risk.”

Mr Parkyn said the rain currently falling in Gippsland “is only going to intensify – in fact, the most intense rain is expected overnight, and because of that, the Bureau of Meteorology is likely to issue early flood warnings before the rivers even peak”.

“The rainfall quantities over the next 12 to 18 hours is likely to be broadly between 70 and 100mm, that’s quite significant, but some of the more elevated locations through Gippsland, and also the Strzeleckis, could see falls of 150 to 200mm … and as a result of that, we’re likely to see major flooding,” he said.

Mr Parkyn said there would be a significant wind component to the weather system – flagging Gippsland for gusts of up to 120kmh.

“Hopefully, by sunrise tomorrow, the heavier rain will have contracted to that western part of Gippsland, there’ll be some residual damaging gusts through central parts, but we’ll be on a downhill path as Thursday unfolds, and severe weather becomes less likely, and we’ll just be contending with all the flooding that’s coming down those major river systems that I’ve mentioned,” he said.

Currently, there are severe weather, sheep graziers and gale wind warnings in place for Gippsland, as well as a flood watch.

Southern Rural Water has advised the heavy rainfall may cause flooding in some areas, including around the Latrobe, Macalister and Thomson rivers.

The water authority indicated it would provide updates as required.

Lake Glenmaggie is currently at 36.8 per cent capacity (current as of noon Tuesday, June 8).

To stay on top of current weather warnings, visit bom.gov.au/vic/warnings or emergency.vic.gov.au.

For the latest on traffic closures, visit traffic.vicroads.vic.gov.au.

For an emergency service response regarding floodwaters, phone the State Emergency Service on 132 500.

In life-threatening situations, phone 000.

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