AS the angry clouds rolled in one afternoon, no one in Mirboo North could have imagined the amount of chaos that was to follow.

On Tuesday, February 13, the tornado-like storm that swept through Victoria left a destructive trail in its wake, but the small town of Mirboo North in the Strzelecki Ranges suffered the most.

Debris covered the ground as gigantic gums were ripped from the roots, and roofs were peeled back like tin cans; Mirboo North was left unrecognisable.

Many residents say pictures don’t do justice to the amount of destruction the town faced, with 16 homes left uninhabitable.

The town was completely isolated as the storm blocked roads with timber, destroyed powerlines and damaged telecommunications towers.

Accounts of their experiences are truly devastating.

One family’s roof was lifted completely with nowhere else for them to go, and as hail stones fell like rocks from the sky, a mother and her children took shelter underneath their family car to escape.

The unimaginable fear of watching trees fall like dominoes across the road trapped one woman in her car for hours.

The storm with 120km/h winds came through only 500 metres in width, pulverising one side of town while leaving the other rather unscathed.

Mirboo North Secondary School student, James Aveling described the harrowing ordeal.

“I couldn’t even hear mum screaming out the door, trying to tell me to come back in because this big ball of swirling black clouds came over behind us,” he said.

“It sounded like a train came through.”

James and his family bunkered down in the bathroom and waited for the raging storm to pass as he heard the fence and shed come crashing down.

Cherie Beveridge watched the storm roll in at home with her children with growing concern.

The gale force winds sent a tree smashing down onto her roof. Though the external damage wasn’t that extensive, she said the emotional damage took its toll on her family.

“Afterwards, the kids were in shock, and they were scared once they saw what was happening outside,” she said.

“My kids just keep saying, ‘They don’t look like good clouds, mum,’… and they’re sleeping outside of our bedroom at the moment on their mattresses because they don’t want to be alone in their bedrooms.”

Cherie’s in-laws suffered significantly more in terms of damage to their property, with the force of the storm sending glass from the windows hurling inside and parts of the roof into the yard.

Waiting on insurers to assess the property, the Beveridge’s were told that there could be a 12-month wait before their house could be repaired.

Locally born and raised, Mirboo North Primary School Principal, Matt Snell, told the Latrobe Valley Express that the extent of the damage across town was worse than he had originally presumed.

“There was much more damage than what we heard early on because, certainly, we didn’t hear from a lot of pockets of the community that had been impacted as well,” he said.

The principal said the impacts of the storm were widespread on the community, with his own staff members directly affected. One woman was trapped in her car on Old Thorpdale Road with a gum and pine tree blocking her exit for an hour until she was rescued.

Despite having no working power, both primary and secondary schools were open following the storm, supervising children from families that needed to deal with storm-caused messes.

Both schools opened on Monday, with generators organised with the help from the Department of Education, Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien and the state government.

It was a non-traditional start back at school, with mental health professionals and support services on hand, ready to help kids heal after the traumatic experience.

As a small rural farming town, “the loss of pets and the loss of livestock on farms have been pretty significant for some families,” Mr Snell said.

“One boy in particular was helping with the cattle at his house, and he was caught in it, and stock were trapped under a tree with him there, so it was pretty traumatic.”

There are stories recounting the destruction of the storm, but there are more stories showcasing a community activation and resilience unlike any other.

Though the storm was strong, this community is stronger as they collectively repair the town bit by bit.

Teenagers out of school were on the power tools helping the most vulnerable clean up their properties.

Ex-veterans organised by local volunteer Jess Healey, were out in full force at the RSL, aiming to clear the damage to operate the community-minded clearing project from the building.

“I’ll get anyone who wants to help come in – I’ve already started a list of people who need help clearing their properties – the elderly or those who just don’t have the tools to do it – we’ll just organise the community to go out and help where they can,” she said.

Countless posts on the Mirboo North Community Notice Board Facebook group feature donation offers from food, housing and services to those in need.

Businesses from near and far are offering assistance where they can, while locals continue doing what they’ve always done – look out for their mates.

Mr Snell said that everyone has gone above and beyond to help out someone in need, reflecting how tight knit the community response has been.

While the trees may have fallen down, the community has stood tall.


Dairy farmer found dead in Darlimurla

THERE has, so far, been one recorded fatality from last week’s storm.

A farmer died after being struck by a shed roof that detached in strong winds at Mirboo North on Tuesday, February 13.

Emergency services were called to a property on Boolarra-Mirboo North Road, at about 6pm.

It is believed a 50-year-old male from Darlimurla (near Mirboo North) was operating a quad bike while moving cattle when he and several cows were hit about 6pm.

WorkSafe is investigating the incident.

Victorian Farmers Federation President, Emma Germano, herself a Mirboo North resident, offered her condolences to the family, while also lashing out at the state government amid another natural disaster.

“On behalf of all Victorian farmers, the VFF extends its heartfelt condolences to the Mirboo North farmer sadly killed in (the) wild weather. Our thoughts go out to the family and loved ones left to mourn after this tragedy,” she said.

“Farmers and regional Victorians remain stranded, powerless and in some cases burnt out almost a day after terrible fires and thunderstorms. The impact on our industry and regional communities is immense.

“Victoria is still feeling the impact of one of our largest ever power blackouts and the complete lack of planning and resilience by the government is once again crippling our state. We must do better.”

Police will prepare a report for the Coroner following the death of the Darlimurla man.
The death is not being treated as suspicious.