Extreme weather event report

2021 Boolarra Road Flooded

Boolarra and district

Colin Brick OAM

With thousands of trees down and with much of the district without power for four days plus, and some spots for ten days plus, obviously it was a major event.

What caused it? Very heavy rainfall (125ml in 24 hours at my neighbour’s house, and +200 ml up in the hills) combined with winds in excess of 125 kmh from the south-east, which is a very unusual direction for this area. Typically, we get heavy rainfall, or strong winds; not the two together.

So why should we count our blessings?

No one has been seriously injured, although I have heard of a number of narrow escapes.

Property damage has been relatively light, given the conditions. A few houses have been damaged, and a number of sheds, and quite a lot of fencing destroyed. It could have been a lot worse. I do understand that the Waterwheel blueberry farm suffered very heavy damage, and some houses up at Budgeree were badly impacted.

A couple of very popular local spots, Foxes swimming hole, and Primrose Park, both on the Morwell River, have both been decimated, and the scars from the storm will be visible for many years to come.

Boolarra, like Churchill and Yinnar, was physically cut off from adjoining towns for most of Thursday. Fortunately, once the rain stopped the water levels subsided rapidly, and as usual the community rallied and quickly cleared major roads and helped out their neighbours. One thing an event like this does is bring out the very best in the community as people very quickly rally together to help each other out. This spirit was exemplified by the Budgeree community, still without power eight days after the event, getting together for the Budger-Tea morning tea at the community hall.

A big thank you needs to go out to the external agencies who have quickly stepped up to help out. Councillor Melissa Ferguson has been instrumental in getting details of people who needed urgent assistance, and in arranging teams from the Blue Green Army to come and help people in desperate need. Latrobe City’s disaster relief team has swung rapidly into action, and there is a range of financial assistance available from groups such as GERF (Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund).

For many residents the greatest issue was the extended power outage and the associated loss of communications.

To me in some ways this is the most concerning aspect of the past couple of weeks. In a community such as Boolarra and district there are a whole range of emergency events that can impact on power and access. Once communications are lost, it makes the community doubly vulnerable.

As I mentioned earlier, we were very fortunate that no one was badly injured. However if anybody had been, they were on their own. The flooding, and worse, the road closures due to downed trees, made it impossible to transport them out, and the lack of communications made it impossible to notify agencies that may have been able to provide assistance.

My understanding is that this communications issue is due to our telecommunications tower and our phone exchange having a very limited back up power provided by batteries. This is clearly inadequate, and arrangements should be made for provision of back up generators to avoid this issue which will recur.

I apologise to any impacted residents if they feel I have minimised their suffering. I am a glass half full person, and while I am conscious of the damage caused, I am grateful that it wasn’t a lot worse.

Budgeree changed forever.

The landscape of Budgeree was changed forever the night of Wednesday June 9. After a day of heavy rain, the winds started. By 9:30pm trees were falling, being ripped, roots and all, out of the ground and others snapped in half. Ross Hall, who has lived all of his 93 years in Budgeree said “I’ve never seen anything like this. I didn’t think something like this could happen.” Mr Hall went on to say “it’s difficult to describe the damage that has occurred. We have lost so many trees, many of them hundreds of years old, it’s heartbreaking.”

Thursday morning, after the storm, has been described by many Budgeree residents as traumatic. It was difficult for many to comprehend the magnitude of the damage. All roads were blocked by countless trees, fallen like a line of matchsticks as far as you could see. Fences were flattened and landslides pulled fences and pasture into the creeks and gullies. Fences and gates were buried with silt, mud and debris. Livestock were missing. Sheds were either flattened or had the roofs blown off. Machinery laid broken under trees.

2021 Budgeree Landslide Landslide on Mr Potter’s farm

Local resident Luke Potter said “the noise of the wind was frightening. It shook the house and you could hear the trees breaking”. Mr Potter was distressed as he cleared trees off the road for he found many native animals crushed in or under the trees. “This has been a major environmental disaster. So many big old trees have come down, the whole landscape has changed. It’s going to take years for the bush and farms to recover.” Mr Potter’s farm had significant damage from landslides. “Luckily we had moved our horses out of the paddock when the storm started as the whole back part of the paddock broke open, moved and slipped into the creek taking the fences with it. We won’t even be able to re-fence until the ground dries out and stabilises” he said.

In true country spirit the Budgeree residents pulled out their chainsaws and tractors and started clearing the roads, knowing it could be days before any outside assistance could get in. With no power, landline phones, mobile phones, internet or TV no one really knew how wide spread the damage was or if any help was coming. Without power for nine days and no communications for four days including not being able to call 000 for the emergency services was so isolating and frightening. It was lucky no one was hurt.

“Clearing the roads was a priority just so we could check on each other and get access to paddocks.” Local farmer, Matt Hall, said. “I couldn’t get to the other end of the farm to check on my cattle as the roads were completely blocked and I couldn’t walk as the creek was in flood. Budgeree received approximately 230ml of rain in a few hours causing flash flooding across the paddocks, creeks and the Morwell River. Foxes Hole, a popular swimming spot, along the Morwell River in Budgeree peaked at 4.6 meters early Thursday morning. Whole trees were pulled from the ground by the force of the water and wind and were tossed around in the fast flowing current. The force of the water washed away the access stairs and destroyed the tree that held the rope swing.

2021 Tree Down on Shed

As the cleanup starts many describe how tired they are and how overwhelmed they feel about the job ahead. As one tree is cut up and moved it is difficult to see any difference as there are so many more trees tangled together. Helping people through this difficult time is the Budger-tea program. Budger-tea is a weekly morning tea held at the Budgeree Hall. “The idea behind Budger-tea is to provide a space for our community to come together to reduce the feelings of isolation and loneliness said Budger-tea organiser Leanne Potter. “We started Budger-tea with a grant from Australia Post Grants in response to COVID lockdowns but it has never been as important as now. Even though we had no power Budger-tea went ahead knowing we had to give our community a chance to get together and share their stories and experiences. We used a generator to boil the kettle and had a fire pit to stay warm” said Mrs Potter. “We were all so pleased to just get together, share a cuppa and laugh. It renewed our spirits and gave us the strength to keep going.”

If you wish to help those so traumatically impacted you can make a donation to GERF Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund by bank transfer or by going to any NAB branch.

Yinnar South

Dave Egan lives on Gilbert’s Road and he kindly shared some of the impacts he and his neighbours in that area experienced.

Dave, like others much older, says that they have never seen an event like this before.

2021 Tree Down on House

Folks woke up the next morning thinking that was a terrifying storm never imagining the devastation and destruction they would find. One they will never forget. Electric fences were not working so cattle got out, trees were down across roads and in properties. One property had 200 trees down. Low lying power lines had been taken down with the trees were across the road. Were they still live? A scary situation.

There was no power restored in the area for seven days. Dave was fortunate to receive the loan of a generator, but others, not so fortunate, lost a lot of food from fridges and freezers. They were blocked off for two days.

Some now face dirty water in their water tanks. There is lots to think about following such an event.

A farmer on Middle Creek lost the bridge access to his farm.

This event has been a ‘double whammy’ for the folks in his area with the fires in 2019 and now this. Dave feels for the wildlife. The possums, gliders and koalas have lost so much of their habitat.

The Yinnar Yinnar South Landcare Group planted 4000 trees along Middle Creek after the fires. He imagines that most of them would be lost with the tree guards buried in loads of mud and debris and will need to be dug out. Heartbreaking!

But as with all emergencies, the locals were out in force pulling together, using their skills and equipment clearing the roads, checking in on neighbours and generally helping each other. It will however take a long time to bring the area back, but neighbours will help each other as they are a community in every sense of the word.

Cautioning sticky beaks, Dave emphatically pointed out that trees can still fall and roll. Roads are dangerous with many trees still along roads and in rain events roads will flood because drains are blocked because they are full of debris. Please stay away.

With so many trees down a lot of essential clearing up will be necessary as if they are left, they will create fuel for any future fire. The thought is that some is good timber and could be milled to used, not just burnt or used as fire wood.

Yinnar

Yinnar was cut off with flood waters and experienced power outages. Many trees down and much damage done. Latrobe City Council held a respite centre there. There will be further recovery efforts in all our council areas so badly affected by the weather. Need for feed, hay delivery is happening again for the farmers who have lost pasture and hay supplies. The Blue Green Crew (VicPol 4WD Club) is coming again to help with home visits. Blaze Aid will be based at Yinnar Recreation Reserve to help restore broken and damaged fencing.

Low lying areas

Many people in low lying areas such as Hazelwood Estate, experienced creeks overflowing and flooding their properties. Mud and debris covering large swaths of their property. Again this creates dangerous situations with trees in soggy soil possibly falling if more strong wind and rain comes.

Clearing out flooded sheds and homes is soul destroying work.

One of the concerning things which happened with the floods was the cutting off of Churchill, Yinnar and Boolarra because of the necessary road closures. This meant many could not attend their work. Power outages in the Churchill area including the shopping centre impacted heavily with businesses closed, and food which had to be thrown out due to lack of power for refrigeration. This is another blow for Churchill as for the other smaller towns thus effected.

Hancock Victoria Plantations

HVP manages 80,000 hectares of plantations of pine and eucalypt. The storm took out 400-500 hectares of eucalypt plantation through wind damage in the north west section incorporating Whitelaw’s Track and Budgeree areas. This is a very significant loss. Over the two weeks leading up to June 24 the crews had been involved with recovery activities clearing plantations and other roads with other agencies.

More accurate operational details and assessment will follow as soon as possible. The problems with the roads in the areas is the concern. HVP will make sure production and planting operations and making roads secure will continue in a safe manner for some time to come. There is a fair amount of work to be done over the coming months

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Churchill and District News is a community newspaper staffed by volunteers.

 

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