Storm rages in the Ranges

Lillydale Lake flooded. Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS.240519_02

By Jed Lanyon and Mikayla van Loon

Wild weather lashed Victoria on Wednesday 9 June as the Yarra Ranges was hit with some of the worst damage from across the state.

As of 10am on Thursday 10 June nearly 4400 calls had been made to the SES across the state, the highest number of calls for assistance in many years.

Lilydale SES Unit Controller Shaun Caulfield said every three to four years emergency service crews see 700 to 800 calls for assistance in one night across the state.

Usually crews from both the suburbs and regional towns can respond and clear the damage in two days but this has been beyond anything they have seen in a long time.

“We don’t often see the whole state being smashed,” Mr Caulfield said.

Having received over 650 requests for assistance as of 10am Thursday 10 June and responding to 30 rescues for people trapped in their houses by trees, Mr Caulfield described the last 24 hours as “busy.”

There were major road closures across the Yarra Valley including the Black Spur between Healesville and Narbethong and the Maroondah Highway in Coldstream, according to VicRoads.

Coldstream CFA worked as part of a task force, working their way to clear roads to allow ambulances and other emergency services access to people in need.

Captain Sean Bethell said the Mount Dandenong region was heavily impacted by fallen trees.

“There’s quite a few trees that have come down across houses with people in them at the time… The Dandenongs have been hit really hard.”

Mr Bethell said that high winds coming from a south-eastern direction made a significant difference as the area typically receives south-westerly winds, which may have caused more trees to uproot.

Kalorama experienced some of the worst damage, with SES crews needing to chainsaw their way into an address where a number of people were injured.

Mr Caulfield said due to the fallen trees and debris, it was taking crews between one and a half to two hours to get to people.

“There are no small trees in Kalorama, they are all big trees,” he said.

“We had a very, very near miss, one of the four wheel drives from Emerald [SES] had a tree fall on it and the crew was standing very close. The car has been written off but the crew is all ok.”

After this incident CFA and SES crews made the decision to only respond to life threatening calls.

Winds of up to 100km per hour are to blame for the destruction across the mountain and throughout the Yarra Ranges.

Mt Dandenong Tourist Road will be closed for quite some time as crews clear the damage and hundreds of trees over the roads.

Excavators and other heavy duty equipment will be required to remove trees from the roads, which arrived onsite at 3am on Thursday 10 June.

Mr Bethell’s crew responded to several incidents across Chirnside Park, Lilydale and Wonga Park, including a ruptured gas line in Cobden Crescent, Lilydale.

Healesville SES controller Andrew Worley said his unit responded to many calls of traffic hazards and flooded houses.

“We probably started just before midday yesterday (9 June) and finished up before 3am… We had some outstanding jobs and we’re back at it again this morning.

“Lots of people’s houses flooded so we did a lot of sandbagging.”

Healesville SES responded to a landslide on Myers Creek Road and assisted Lilydale SES in helping two motorists whose cars became stuck in flood waters along River Street.

“It’s never a good idea to drive through flood water, even if you think you can see the road, you don’t know what’s underneath or what’s happened to the road.”

He urged motorists to try and avoid going out on the roads unless absolutely necessary following extreme weather conditions as emergency services attempt to clear roads.

Power outages affected many traffic lights and over 10,000 homes in suburbs including in Mount Evelyn, Croydon, Chirnside Park, Mooroolbark, Lilydale, Ringwood and more.

Flood warnings have been issued for the Yarra River at Yarra Glen which is currently sitting at four metres and is rising steadily.

It is expected to reach its peak of five metres on the morning of Saturday 12 June. The estimated peak at Yarra Glen is likely to be similar to the peak level of extreme weather conditions from February 2011, which was the biggest flood recorded at the site to date.

Warnings for Christmas Hills and Warrandyte have also been issued, as well as for surrounding areas for people to be mindful of flood waters.

Mr Caulfield said it is now a joint effort between Yarra Ranges Council, VicRoads, CFA, SES, Victoria Police and power lines people to restore roads, power and safety to the area.

The SES is asking people to be patient as they work their way through calls and jobs, they are doing their best to get to everyone as soon as they can.

If damage has occurred, Mr Caulfield asked people to be proactive in calling their insurance company and not to wait for SES to respond.

Insurance companies may be able to provide temporary accommodation, otherwise Yarra Ranges Council is also able to relocate people in times of natural disaster.

The heavy winds and rain proved timely coinciding with Thank a First Responder Day, highlighting the crucial role emergency services play in keeping the area safe.