Recovery underway, but more rain is coming

A bird’s eye view over the Longford area provides a whole new perspective on the extent of flooding. This amazing aerial shot was taken by local photographer Lotje McDonald.

Sarah Luke

RECOVERY efforts are underway across Wellington Shire following last week’s destructive weather, as authorities keep one eye on this week’s forecast.
As predicted, an east coast low passed over Gippsland last Wednesday night, bringing record rain to some parts of the region, while howling winds with gusts of more than 100 kilometres per hour ripped apart trees and powerlines.
Between Wednesday and Saturday, rainfall totals of 80 to 190 millimetres were recorded in the Thomson River catchment, with an isolated higher total of 290mm at the Thomson-Yarra Divide.
Widespread flooding in the days following have closed roads, damaged properties and swept away assets.
Floodwaters have claimed one life locally — a man in his 60s was found dead in floodwaters at Starlings Lane, Woodside, on Thursday afternoon.
AusNet Services’ 600-strong field crew have been working around the clock, restoring power to 167,000 of its customers since Wednesday.
At the time the Gippsland Times went to print yesterday morning, 24,648 customers on AusNet Service’s network were waking up to their fifth day without power.
A moderate flood warning was still in place for Thomson River downstream of Wandocka and Sale, while a minor flood warning was in place for the Gippsland Lakes.
River heights across Wellington Shire were either steady or falling, with below minor levels recorded everywhere except Flooding Creek — part of the Thomson River catchment — which was showing steady, moderate flooding at Sale Wharf, at a height of three metres.
An emergency warning encouraging Sale residents near the Thomson to leave immediately was downgraded on Friday afternoon to a major flood warning.
The South Gippsland Highway between Sale and Longford closed about 7pm on Friday night, but reopened Saturday morning, after Flooding Creek peaked below major flood levels at 3.45 metres about 10pm on Friday night.
Cowwarr Weir and Licola were not so lucky, with both experiencing major flooding on Thursday.
The Seaspray township was also affected by widespread flooding and high winds tore the roof from one house.
The Avon River peaked at 6.89 metres on Thursday afternoon, and an emergency warning was issued for the Stratford, Briagolong, Boisdale and Valencia Creek areas, with residents living near the Avon River urged to leave before conditions became too dangerous.
As local residents know all too well, the Avon is quick to rise and quick to fall, and was well below minor flood levels in Stratford at 2.62m on Monday morning.
Stratford SES reported local units had three rescues on Thursday from cars caught in rising flood waters, with another in Sale on Friday, while SES volunteers in Sale spent their Friday hand-filling 3000 sandbags.
As the control agency for flood response, local SES units reminded residents to drive carefully as trees were still falling around the district, and if motorists see emergency services crews working with lights flashing, they must slow to 40kmh.
While the worst has passed, the Bureau of Meteorology predicts a low pressure system and trough will cross Victoria and Bass Strait on Wednesday, with another trough moving over south-western Victoria on Thursday as the low deepens east of Bass Strait.
The system will bring showers in Sale from Wednesday to Saturday, expected to drop a maximum of 19mm locally, but potentially higher rainfall totals and snow above 1200 metres in the alpine region.
Southern Rural Water has been performing small releases under 5000 megalitres per day at Lake Glenmaggie, and expected the reservoir to fill at the weekend.
It was at 85.2 per cent capacity at the time of print.
Ahead of “another significant rain event” forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, Southern Rural Water staff worked during the weekend clearing debris from water storages.
“[Southern Rural Water] will continue to monitor conditions as the forecasts for the next event stabilise,” the water authority reported on Sunday afternoon.”
On Monday morning, several roads were still closed across Wellington Shire because of flooding, including Bengworden Rd between Stratford-Bengworden Rd and Clydebank Rd, and the Traralgon-Maffra Rd and Sale-Heyfield Rd near Tinamba.
Canal Rd near the Port of Sale was still flood-affected yesterday morning, as was nearby Waterworks Rd and a number of other roads in the Desailly’s Flats area.
Stewarts Lane was underwater at Weirs Crossing between Stratford and Maffra, and some roads in the Valencia Creek area were also still closed.
Down south, Carrajung-Woodside Rd near Woodside, Brewery Rd in Alberton and some roads in the Gormandale-Carrajung area were flooded at the time of print, and Grand Ridge Rd was closed from Balook to Yarram.
Wellington Shire’s south was hit hard by the extreme weather, with AusNet Service’s outages tracker showing more than 450 customers still without power south of the Princes Highway on Monday morning.
Yarram SES unit reported the eastern region received more than 827 requests for assistance between 9am Wednesday and 11pm Thursday, with Yarram SES recording 150 of those alone — “and that number continues to climb”.
The unit also received two requests to assist an ambulance as a result of fallen trees, and attended a car crash in Alberton.
Across the shire, dairy farmers left without power reported having to dump their milk.
Cows still have to be milked regularly to prevent them from drying off, and while generators could power the milking equipment, some had no way of keeping the milk refrigerated.
A Wellington Shire Council relief hub opened in Yarram on Monday for anyone still affected by power outages to eat a hot meal, have a shower, use the internet and receive access to support.
AusNet Services were on-hand with care packs, bottled water and power banks to re-charge phones.
Those who weren’t able to attend the relief hub were encouraged to phone the Wellington Relief Line on 1300 137 218 to access support.
Hot barbecue dinners were put on by local service clubs in Devon North and Woodside, while Yarram Recreation Reserve and Devon North Public
Hall opened their doors for people to receive hot showers.
Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund is taking financial donations for flood-affected residents in Gippsland.
Donations can be made via direct transfer – (BSB 083 932, account number: 740196862), Paypal via www.gerf.org.au, or at any at any NAB branch across Australia.
For more information, visit www.gerf.org.au, email info@gerf.org.au or phone 0408 294 331 or 0409 023 707.
For more information on the Personal Hardship Assistance Program, phone Wellington Shire
Council’s relief line on 1300 137 218 or email emergencyhardshippayments@dffh.vic.gov.au.
For the most up to date information regarding road closures, visit traffic.vicroads.vic.gov.au.
For the latest warnings and up to date information, visit emergency.vic.gov.au.