IN stark contrast to the joyous occasion that saw 30,000 people attend the Italian festival held in Mirboo North a few days before the storm ravaged the town, hundreds of people packed into the Town Hall to attend the first community information meeting since the tragic events of Tuesday, February 13.

Tensions were high as the community had their whole world flipped upside down following the storm.

Frustrated locals who had seen roofs ripped off, enormous gum trees uprooted and their town flattened questioned why the emergency response was so slow.

Emergency responders, telecommunications and power agencies and contractors were all in attendance to try and give answers to a community in suffering.

While it is understood the local CFA managed emergency calls for assistance as routes into the town were inundated with fallen trees and debris limited access, locals were understandably emotional waiting a day before assistance from the SES and other agencies arrived.

SES Incident Controller, Jackson Bell updated the community on the work being done in the region.

Questions: SES Incident Controller, Jackson Bell fielded many concerns from the community regarding slow responses from agencies. Photograph: Zaida Glibanovic

Mr Bell said the first few days were essential to mobilise forces and resources to begin managing emergency calls.

Since the storm, the SES has worked to stabilise the Strzelecki Highway to regain access to the township. The next step for the SES was to aid the town in recovery.

With the sound of chainsaws and heavy machinery washing out the serene noises of the country town, that recovery process has certainly begun, but as Mr Bell told the community, the road to rebuild will be a long one.

Some of the community’s key issues were asbestos exposure with roof damages, debris and timber removal from properties, hazardous trees and branches, and caring for livestock, with many reported injuries and broken fencing creating issues.

Packed: Hundreds of people attended the first Mirboo North community information session. Photograph: Zaida Glibanovic

AusNet Chief Executive, David Smales responded to questions from the crowd, informing the community that AusNet had to meticulously plan its activity first and foremost.

“From both fronts, we had to be very measured, careful, considerate but do all of that with haste,” he said.

Mr Smales said the storm damage from Tuesday “was the biggest impact on our network that we’ve ever seen,” with two kilometres of distribution lines needing repair.

The AusNet boss asked for patience as he explained crews were working hard to reconnect homes back to power.

The generator recently installed was powering 150 to 200 properties in the town on Friday, with extensive pre-planning needed to ensure connecting the power was safe.

Gippsland Divisional Police Commander, Peter Fusinato said police were ensuring to keep a 24-hour presence to protect and assist the community.

“I’ve been involved in the rural community for 37 years, and this is probably the single point: this township has suffered the greatest storm damage I have ever seen. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.

“We’ve made sure you’ve got a 24/7 police presence to provide that reassurance to you – it wasn’t designed to protect you from crime because Mirboo North is a reasonably safe place and all the community people rally together and look after each other.”

Commander Fusinato later told the Latrobe Valley Express that concerns were still high that some looters would take advantage of power outages. Still, he said increased police presence would deter would-be opportunists.

Protect: Gippsland Divisional Police Commander, Peter Fusinato helped inform the community of the 24-hour police presence. Photograph: Zaida Glibanovic

South Gippsland Shire Council Mayor, Clare Williams gave an emotional address to the Town Hall, saying “it’s bloody heart breaking to be here”.

Despite the harrowing scenes of Mirboo North brought to the ground, the Mayor gave a heartfelt tribute to the admirable efforts of the community working together in the face of disaster.

“Despite all of these challenges, I am super proud to be out there looking at my community, with so much admiration as I watch you all work together, help your neighbours, help your friends and help your family,” she said through tears.

As you walk through town, everyone remains with heads held high and an eagerness to help out in any way. Everyone is there to help pick up the pieces – from young school kids to retired veterans, everyone has tools in hand ready to get the job done.

This ferocious storm attempted to bring Mirboo North down, but a community as strong as this one will not bend in the wind.