Morwell on road to recovery

As the Morwell mine fire continues to subside, authorities are preparing for an emergency recovery process like no other.

Historically, they do not switch to ‘recovery mode’ and establish a community recovery committee until a fire is out.

But public need for assistance has prompted the Incident Control Centre to put interim measures in place.

A community advisory group made up of local government, health, education, business and community representatives last week began providing feedback to authorities about the community’s needs.

It is expected the group will be a precursor to a traditional community recovery committee, which authorities admit will face a unique set of circumstances.

“In 2009 we learnt a lot about our capacity and confirmed our approach to recovery,” municipal recovery manager Steve Tong said.

“This has actually been more protracted as far as an active event goes and for us to remain in a response phase for so long has been challenging.”

Mr Tong said Latrobe City Council was working to establish the best way to complete the mammoth job of helping Morwell residents clean up.

“With 6667 properties in Morwell, it’s going to be a big task,” Mr Tong said.

“We’ll make sure vulnerable people are on the top of our list.”

It will begin with the purchase of 24 HEPA filter vacuum cleaners capable of picking up fine particles to clean the houses of its home and community care clients and deliver air purifiers if needed.

The vacuum cleaners are also available for loan at no charge to the broader community from the Morwell Men’s Shed, Morwell Neighbourhood House, Berry Street and ProRent.

Council is investigating options for providing laundry and car wash services.

Australian Red Cross state emergency services manager Adam Dent said recovery meant residents were feeling at ease.

“It won’t require physical rebuilding, but for people to have confidence and feel comfortable again,” Mr Dent said.

“We’ll stick it out for as long as the community needs us to be there.”

Since the incident began, more than 150 Red Cross volunteers from across the state have converged on the area, with about 35 people each day at the peak of the effort.

Mr Dent said volunteers observed not a homogenous community, but many people who wanted to get back on with life.

“There are resilient people in Morwell, some with complex needs, and people who have a range of challenges in their lives, not just caused by smoke, but exacerbated by that,” he said.

“We would want to be involved in anything that helps support the resilience of Morwell.”

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said it was premature to detail an exact recovery plan, but it would involve business and community support and full engagement of the community advisory group and council.

“It’s got to be about what the community needs,” he said.