By Colin MacGillivray
VICSES Kilmore unit controller John Koutras has praised the spirit of the Mitchell Shire community, which rallied together in the face of ‘some of the scariest storms’ experienced in the region last week.
The region, along with neighbouring Macedon Ranges Shire and large parts of eastern Victoria, was rocked by devastating weather on Wednesday night and Thursday last week.
Gale-force winds uprooted trees, severing power lines, causing extensive property damage and closing roads.
Heavy rain also caused havoc, with Broadford receiving 94mm in a 24-hour period, prompting the Vic Emergency service to issue a flood warning for Sunday Creek.
Thousands of residents were left without power in Kilmore, with hundreds more outages in Broadford, Seymour, Wallan, Pyalong, Tallarook, Puckapunyal and Wandong-Heathcote Junction.
Many homes and businesses were left without power, some for several days. Most businesses in Kilmore remained shut throughout Thursday while power was restored.
Hundreds of Pyalong and Lancefield homes were without power until Sunday.
Mitchell Shire Council, along with Victoria Police, the SES and Red Cross, set up a site at Pyalong Recreation Reserve providing food and power for residents on Sunday.
As of yesterday afternoon, energy distributor AusNet’s website showed 67 people without power in Broadford and three in Tallarook.
AusNet did not respond to the Review’s requests for further information before going press time yesterday.
Mobile and home phone services were also affected after telecommunications infrastructure was damaged.
Schools such as St Patrick’s Primary School Kilmore, Assumption College Kilmore and Our Lady of the Way Catholic School in Wallan all advised parents to keep students at home on Thursday.
Childcare centres such as Marie Williams Kindergarten in Kilmore and others in Pyalong, Wallan East, Wandong and Flowerdale also shut their doors temporarily.
Mitchell Shire Council services were disrupted, with Wallan Resource Recovery Centre and Kilmore Customer and Library Service Centre losing power.
Kilmore’s Monument Hill Reserve remains closed after it suffered significant storm damage, with people prohibited from entering the reserve under any circumstances.
Council offered residents free green waste disposal at its Broadford and Pyalong resource recovery centres from Saturday to Monday, but not Seymour or Wallan centres as they lacked space for large volumes of tree material.
Mr Koutras said the storm was one of the worst he could recall in his time with the SES.
He said his crew was stood down at about midnight on Wednesday amid worsening conditions.
“It was an absolutely incredible event. The winds were so strong – I haven’t seen anything like that for a long time,” he said.
“We were in the middle of it [when we got called off]. I was on Wandong Road and there was a massive tree down right across the whole road. We were driving up to it and all we could see was a green wall of trees.
“You couldn’t stand on your feet it was that windy, and there were trees just falling in front of us and behind us.
“I’m glad the call was made because we were struggling at that stage with the amount of wind. It was way too dangerous.”
SES crews resumed at about 6.45am on Thursday morning as the region emerged to assess the damage.
Mr Koutras said Kilmore SES unit received hundreds of requests for assistance.
“We had tremendous support from the CFA in the area – they were absolutely unbelievable, and hats off to them,” he said.
“We also got SES units come in from Chilton, Benalla, Mansfield and Cobram to help our crews get through the work.
“Not only do we want to thank the CFA and other SES crews, but the local council contractors and VicRoads have been amazing as well. It’s been a full-on team effort.”
Mr Koutras praised the Mitchell Shire community for rallying together in the face of adversity.
“We’ve had some great community support. The Rose Café came down with some food, which we were so grateful for. They knocked on our door and said ‘you guys must be hungry’ and thanked us. It’s been amazing,” he said.
“The community has helped us and we’ve helped them.”
Kilmore CFA captain Hayden Dally described the storm as ‘phenomenal’.
“About five or six years ago we had a big storm go through Kilmore. I’d rate this one on the same level but it was more widespread this time instead of limited to one area. I don’t want to see it again, I can tell you,” he said.
VICSES Seymour unit controller Christine Welsh said volunteers assisted Ambulance Victoria with two call-outs during the storm.
“For us it was mainly tree and traffic hazard jobs, so trees down over roads and things like that, as well as trees down on structures like houses and sheds,” she said.
“We had one person whose roof had been almost completely ripped off, and we sought council assistance to get him somewhere else to stay for the night.”
Mr Koutras said he was unsure how long it would take the region to fully recover.
“As far as trees are concerned, there is a lot of extensive damage out there on people’s properties, especially roofs,” he said.
“It’s going to take a while to recover. There was stuff we couldn’t immediately help with because it was too dangerous.”
Mr Koutras thanked SES volunteers for their dedication and said the group was always looking for new members.
“We have had a great influx of new members. We’ve got about 30 members at the moment and we’re in the midst of doing a recruitment drive for day members,” he said.
“It might be stay-at-home mums or dads who have dropped the kids at school and are looking for something to do during the day.
“As volunteers, most of our members need to go off to work and aren’t available all the time. I can’t thank my members enough at the minute, because most of them have taken three days off work. I want to not only thank them, but thank the businesses that employ them who have allowed them to do their job.”