Carnage with cyclone-like storm

IT happened in an instant.

Just five minutes is all it took to leave weeks, if not months of clean-up following significant storm action last week.

A storm more akin to a tornado ripped through Victoria on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 13, following a day where temperatures topped 40 degrees in some parts.

The damage left some areas in Gippsland resembling war zones, while wind gusts of up to 130km/h were enough to topple transmission lines feeding the state’s electricity.

Areas surrounding the Latrobe Valley were not spared, with trees falling, seemingly one-by one.

The storm hit Trafalgar around 4.30pm, some hours after the town had battled through not having electricity.

Further into the hills, entire buildings were torn to pieces in Thorpdale, while the next town along, Mirboo North, was arguably the hardest hit.

Roads in and out of town were closed as trees – and even the football goal posts at the Mirboo North Recreation Reserve – bent at right angles.

The storm had far more devastating consequences, especially for local farmers currently in the midst of the potato harvest season.

Never ones to show too much emotion, it is understood the storm was enough to reduce some farmers to tears as they came to terms losing acres of crops.

Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien was in Mirboo North the day after the superstorm seeing first-hand the carnage within his electorate.

“I have spoken to the Premier’s office and highlighted the severity of the damage, including to multiple homes and community infrastructure,” he said.

Mirboo North and Thorpdale residents were still without power days after the storm, described as “one of the largest outage events in the state’s history” by Energy Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio.

Generators were quickly sought, with one local hire business reportedly sending out close to 200 in a matter of days.

Across the state, around half a million people were left without power, as AusNet became overwhelmed trying to restore customers’ electricity.

Compounding the issue was cuts to communication, forcing people to find charging stations for their devices.

Loy Yang A was heavily affected, with all four units going down at 2.15pm on the day of the storm.

The plant’s operator, AGL, had two units restored by the following day.

Loy Yang A supplies around 30 per cent of the state’s power requirements.

The outage left the streets of nearby Traralgon in virtual darkness last Tuesday night (January 13), as emergency services worked frantically to direct traffic.

Earlier in the day, a bushfire in the Grampians was the prelude to what was to come.

“It all started with a warm night, the warmest night this summer,” meteorologist Kevin Parkyn from the Bureau of Meteorology explained.

“Very quickly, we saw some thunderstorm activity develop early morning (Tuesday) in our western border. Those storms tracked across the landscape through the Wimmera down towards the south-west and those storms resulted in a fair bit of lightning, producing the fire the fire agencies are now combating in and amongst the Grampians.

“But it didn’t stop there, we’ve seen prolific thunderstorm and lightning activity develop across the state … these storms are severe.

“It’s been hot – sizzling. We’ve seen 41.7 degrees at Walpeup, 41.4 at Hopetoun there up in the north-west of the state, incredibly, 41 degrees at Avalon ahead of the wind change, the temperature dropped by about 15 degrees in 15 minutes.

“This is a significant weather day for Victoria, prolific lightning generating fires, the storms are severe, producing damaging wind gusts and even reports of large hails, golf ball-sized hail.”


Finding strength and support within the community

DISASTER often brings people closer and in Morwell, that’s certainly what happened.

With parts of Morwell and Morwell East without power last week, the Morwell Neighbourhood House stepped in to help provide residents with some crucial storm support.

About 250 people attended the Beattie Crescent Street barbecue last Thursday, with an open invitation to all those without power and in need of some nice warm meals.

Those affected by the power outages were welcomed to complimentary coffee at the A Kinder Cup café, a free breakfast barbecue and lunch from 1.30pm.

Team: The staff at Morwell Neighbourhood House were more than happy to help out the community. Photograph supplied

Morwell Neighbourhood House Manager, Tracie Lund said the community banded together to help support those in need.

“We know that Morwell East didn’t have power and many in our community are vulnerable and disadvantaged,” she said.

“So our small team came together having people out door knocking … and then we fired up the barbecue and called in some friends so we were able to get pizza’s donated, water donated, fruit and veggies donated … we had sausages donated.”

“People who had nothing in their fridge and freezer or had to throw out spoiled food were able to come in – break up their day a little bit and access food. We had tunes going so it was a really nice atmosphere.”

Thanks to donations from many local groups and organisations, the food relief efforts were able to keep bellies full and minds positive amid the blackout.

Ms Lund said the Morwell Neighbourhood House was able to plan for disaster, and ready to offer support to those who needed it.

“Over the years we have prepared, I guess going back to the mine fire (Hazelwood Mine Fire of 2014), one of the things we started doing was the community lunches and things like that, and that was about us understanding what we needed to do to gear up to feed numbers of people, not five but 60,” she said.

“Whenever these things pop up, my team are mostly across it, we know who can do what.
“We pretty much just meet together and say, ‘What have we got, what are we going to do’, that’s pretty much our response.”

The Morwell Neighbourhood House had no power itself, but that didn’t stop them. Although the normal house activities were paused, restroom facilities were still in action and food relief was ongoing.

The team at Morwell Neighbourhood House wished to extend their gratitude towards the many groups and organisations that helped provide meals for those in need.

Kindness: Many organisations and individuals came to help provide food relief, including Corey from Domino’s Pizza. Photograph supplied

These include the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council, Corey at Domino’s Pizza, Latrobe Health Assembly, Norm Oliver Meats, Bakers Delight, Farmbox Co. and Gippsland Water.


Stuck in the middle of the storm

THE storm felt like a tornado, residents say.

It was so strong that the hail stones were the biggest they had seen in a long time.

Fly-wire was ripped off and car bonnets dented. The hail storm landed around 5.15pm last Tuesday (February 13) and the hail stones still stood firm at 1pm the following day.

Ice: Hail, still the diameter of a marble, 20 hours after falling from the sky. Photograph: Katrina Brandon

Mirboo North took a beating from which it may take a long time to recover.

In the midst of the storm, it lifted roofs, trampolines, powerlines and trees.

From Thorpdale to as far past the Allambee turn-off, trees and power lines crashed due to the high intensity of winds, that were predicted to be at 130km/h at Yarram, which also received large amounts of damage.

Nary a road was spared of the horrendous mess. Some said that it was straight out of a Stephen King novel.

Through the mess, Gippsland Water started to hand people slabs of water bottles at Baromi Park.

“We’re continuing to ask customers in Mirboo North to put off any non-essential water use,” the company said last week.

“Our crews have been working throughout the night to restore systems but have been challenged by widespread power outages, fallen trees, and prolonged communication network outages.

“You can help conserve water by delaying washing machine and dishwasher use, taking a shorter shower (aim for four minutes), avoiding using baths, washing cars, filling pools and spas, watering gardens and using high-pressure hoses until further advised.

“The water coming to your tap is safe to drink. Keep your eyes open for any water leaks or bursts around your town.”

Damage: Furious winds tore down power lines, trees, and sheds. Photograph: Katrina Brandon

As of Wednesday afternoon, Tarra Valley Road, and Meeniyan-Mirboo North Rd became open.

On Thursday afternoon, more updates arose with a plan for a temporary Optus tower to provide some improved coverage and a similar facility is being provided by NBN to deliver some internet to town.

A satellite truck was set-up outside Jimmy Jambs Café for free Wi-Fi and as a charging station for residents.

Major damage also effected the school over the course of the storm, with the primary school losing their auditorium, their canteen and five classrooms. Even with the amount of damage, the school stayed open so that kids could still have services, and counselling if needed over the week, according to Mirboo North Primary School Assistant Principal, Melissa Neil.

View from up here: An aerial photo of the damage sustained in Mirboo North. Photograph supplied

“I am so thankful for the staff at the school for helping clearing parts of the school so students can come and learn, technology free,” she said.

“Over the last few days (February 14 and 15), I have been checking on local staff members and helping where I can. It’s hard to say when things will be back to normal, but over the weekend we will regroup ready for Monday where we will resume face-to-face learning to those who can come in.”

Crews worked hard on getting roads clear, power on, wires clear and clean water to people.

Currently, a walk through town might suggest that Mirboo North may go a week without power due to the damage. For now, Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action Gippsland recommend that people avoid travelling through Mirboo North until the roads are cleared and things are back to normal.

For more updates, go to the DEECA Gippsland website.


Impacts felt further east

FROM Yarram to Loch Sport and Morwell to Sale, Gippslander’s were left in the dark as lights flickered off and phone signals dropped out across Victoria in the wake of last week’s storm.

Lights out: Traralgon was left in near darkness last week, as the state battled catastrophic winds. Photograph: Liam Durkin

For the fortunate ones unaffected, it was business as usual.

However, popular holiday destinations such as Loch Sport and Seaspray were not so lucky.

Loch Sport Foodworks owner, Matt Edey said power went out at 4.30pm Tuesday (February 13) afternoon, only to come back on at midday the following day.

Mr Edey said the store has its own generator, but a technical issue caused it to suffer the malfunction.

He said no stock was lost.

However, power outages continue to be a problem for businesses and residents in Loch Sport.

“We had about seven outages last year … so, it’s a major problem for Loch Sport,” he said.

Mr Edey said some of the outages were due to last year’s horrific fires.

“But we’re fortunate, because we’ve got the generator that runs the shop, so it doesn’t really affect us unless the generator breaks down.”

He said that generators were sold out because everyone was buying them to “get themselves out of trouble”.

“BP had a big rush on petrol and diesel this morning because everyone’s got a generator,” he said.

In Seaspray, the mini mart lost power as well, forcing an all-night effort to safeguard perishable stock. The power only came back on between 10am and 11am on Wednesday, February 14.

“I have a generator and a contingency plan, but it feels a bit precarious at the moment,” the convenience store owner said.

“I feel like the power is going to go out again.

“We had whole day outages for them to do maintenance (last year) … so we lost days of business that way.

“There were so many days of planned outages to do maintenance, so this wouldn’t happen.”

Mr Edey and the owner of Seaspray’s mini mart both expressed their frustration with the lack of communication from their electricity service providers.

“I know they’re under the pump. But it’s the not knowing,” Mr Edey said.

“We didn’t know when the power was going to come back on.

“That’s why we got a generator.”

Elsewhere, in nearby Longford, a resident said they lost power between 4.30pm on Tuesday and 1.30am on Wednesday morning.

“Internet and phone service lasted a little longer, but we were without it almost completely between 8pm and 8am,” they said.

Some traffic lights were also out in Sale last Wednesday morning.

Drivers were left dazed at the busy Sale-Maffra Road and Princess Highway intersection.

Meanwhile, two crossing supervisors were needed to control the four lanes of traffic in front of Gippsland Grammar.