FRIGHTENING and ferocious were the words Victorian Premier, Jacinta Allan used when describing the impact of the storm that ripped through Mirboo North when visiting last Friday (February 13).

Amid the Premier’s visit, she announced the joint state and federal government’s Prolonged Power Outage Payment Plan to assist those most affected by the storm.

Households without power for seven days after the storm hit will be offered $1920 per week for up to three weeks, while small businesses are eligible for payments of $2927.

Those affected by the storm will have to call their retail power provider to access these payments.

“We want this payment to be processed as easily as possible for customers to be able to access,” the Premier said.

“(The payment package is) acknowledging that there are still many communities, many power customers who are facing prolonged periods of power outage.”

Some residents at the community information session later that day said the paperwork wasn’t worth the headache for a payment they might not even be eligible for, given power was restored to some areas of the town on Friday.

In addition, some residents said the payment couldn’t cover the cost of damages and loss of wages, with people taking days off work to begin the clean-up.

To add to the power outage payments, the state waived its waste levy for storm-impacted residents across 21 local government areas, including East Gippsland, Wellington, Latrobe City, Bass Coast and Baw Baw.

Residents from these areas will be able to dispose of disaster waste for free at the local tip until April 30.

Significant damage to electricity infrastructure left around half a million Victorians without power last week. According to the state government, 90 per cent of those cases were restored within the next two days.

AusNet had deployed a large-scale generator into the Mirboo North community, giving a power hub to residents in need.

Some power was restored to the town by Friday evening.

Chief Officer of Operations of Victoria State Emergency Service, Tim Wiebusch, said there was an unprecedented number of calls for assistance following the storm, 5000 across the state and 80 in Mirboo North alone.

“SES has had three of its busiest years with storms and floods right across the state, and this event of around about 5000 requests for assistance is now in the top 10,” he said.

After the storm hit last Tuesday (February 13) afternoon, Mirboo North was left isolated as SES crews were not able to respond to calls for assistance until Wednesday, needing to clear roads into town.

Initially, the Local CFA was the only emergency crew able to help those needing critical assistance.

Appreciative: The Premier met with the local CFA, and thanked them for their efforts in responding to the emergency. Photograph: Zaida Glibanovic

“For a local community like this at Mirboo North, the local response agencies have done an amazing job because, for the first 24 hours, they were on their own,” Mr Wiebusch said.

“The community are out there with their chainsaws, they’re checking in on their mates, and that’s what we ask the communities to think and do in these major events.”

Minister for Energy and Resources Lily D’Ambrosio was also in Mirboo North last Friday and said the state government was using the significant storm of 2021 as a guide for their emergency response.

The Energy Minister said the storm on Tuesday “surpassed” the damage of the 2021 storms “in terms of viciousness and the tornado-like storms that we (have seen) right across the whole state.”

When questioned why the payments were so specific to people without power for a week, Ms D’Ambrosio said they were localising their financial support to those who have suffered the most hardship and were the most vulnerable.

When the line of questioning turned to recent headlines questioning the condition of the transmission lines, Ms D’Ambrosio said the outages had been significantly caused by low-voltage distribution lines.

“The poles and wires that we see down our street, they are what we are talking about that have caused the big outages back in June ’21 and October ’21 and, of course, this past Tuesday,” she said.

State Opposition leader, John Pesutto saw first-hand the destruction in Mirboo North when he visited last Friday, where he was joined by Nationals party members.

The Opposition said the Power Outage Payment Plan was welcomed, but not enough to cover the cost of the required clean-up.

“The government needs to do a whole lot more than just support packages for power outages,” Mr Pesutto said.

“They’re not going to go anywhere near helping local people with the huge bills that they’re going to face.”

Mr Pesutto reminded the state and federal government that the clean-up does not stop at the debris and initial damages, as locals face removing hazardous trees and stumps.

“Small packages that leave people short-changed is not fair on them,” he said.

The Opposition leader said that risks should have been mitigated before the storm, with measures such as clearer emergency warnings, better emergency response accessibility, and the strengthening of the energy grid to withstand these extreme weather events.

Member for South Gippsland, Danny O’Brien, joined the state Opposition leader in Mirboo North, demanding that the state government better support regional communities in the wake of the storm.

“I know many communities already where they are throwing out food – hundreds and hundreds of dollars per house, and to say you don’t get anything unless you’ve been off for seven days is going to leave a lot of people – particularly the disadvantaged, in difficult circumstances,” he said.

The Opposition is requesting that the state government organise a clean-up package for Mirboo North, as the sheer mass of debris and timber could not be handled by locals with chainsaws and trailers.

“We need a contract here to bring in contractors with big gear to pick it up and clear it away because it’s simply beyond the capacity of the local community,” Mr O’Brien said.