By Colin MacGillivray
SEYMOUR residents are coming to grips with the enormity of the clean-up effort facing them as they count the cost of flooding that struck the region last week.
Flood waters from the Goulburn River peaked at 8.26 metres in the early hours of Friday – more than half a metre above the previous record level of 7.64 metres set during a 1974 flood.
Waters gradually started to recede on Friday, but water released from the at-capacity Eildon Weir on Friday afternoon and inflows from tributaries kept the level relatively constant during the weekend.
With more rain forecast for later this week, authorities have warned residents not to be complacent and to brace for further potential flooding.
Authorities don’t expect the flood water to fully recede until Saturday.
Those businesses and residents who are able to access their property are attempting the enormous clean-up.
High Street resident Margaret Sheppard, a carer for her sister Rosie who has Down syndrome, said they left to stay with family as floodwaters rose on Thursday.
She said she was yet to return to her property but her nephew had kayaked across floodwaters on Sunday to inspect it.
“He was able to take a picture through a window and we could see that water had been in there a couple of feet deep. It’s pretty devastating,” she said.
“My car was left at the property and it had water up to about the dashboard.”
Ms Sheppard said she began preparing to leave at 3.30pm on Thursday but the floodwaters rose more quickly than she expected, barely leaving her enough time to get herself and her sister to safety.
“My nephew has a four-wheel drive with a snorkel on it, so he was able to drive through the water,” she said.
“Because I care for my sister, it was imperative that we got out of there and not wait to get carted out in a boat like some people did.”
Owner of Wallis Street business Branded Dusty Lane Laura Pilkington enlisted the help of friends and family on Friday to begin the long process of cleaning out the flood-affected building.
She said the Seymour community was in for ‘a rough few weeks’, but was grateful for the help and support she received from the community.
“We’ve had an amazing team come from everywhere. We’ve got my boys, my husband, our neighbours, some girls who have worked with me, people we know as customers, people in the horse industry and other locals,” she said.
“When we looked at the cameras [on Friday morning] we saw shoeboxes floating in the store. The water was about two feet deep in the store when we got here.
“Everybody’s okay and it’s only things, but it’s a lot of time and I built this up from nothing.”
VICSES Seymour unit controller Christine Welsh said Ms Sheppard’s experience was common, with many residents surprised by rapidly rising waters.
She said the unit responded to twice its annual average number of incidents in little more than 48 hours.
“We had over 250 jobs between Wednesday and Friday afternoon. That includes 39 water rescues, including assisting with people being evacuated who chose not to leave when asked to, people driving into floodwaters and other things of that nature,” she said.
“To put that in perspective, for the whole of 2021 we had just over 120 jobs for the whole year, so we’ve had double that amount in just two days. It’s crazy.
“I’m in charge of our members’ safety and having to send them multiple times into dangerous situations wasn’t fun.
“Having said that, no one knew how high it was going to come up. Some people thought they were going to be fine and then were impacted.”
Ms Welsh said the unit was now preparing for more potential rain this week.
“We’ve got more sandbags at the ready now. It’s hard to know what to expect – it depends which weather model you look at,” she said.
“Unfortunately, because it’s so far out we don’t know exactly how much [rain] we’re going to get, and probably won’t until about 48 hours beforehand.”
Ms Welsh said the biggest positive to come from the floods was the shared sense of community felt throughout Seymour.
“The amount of assistance from not just the community, but DELWP and the CFA has been amazing. We’ve had people just walking in asking ‘what can we do?’” she said.
“People have helped us with everything from filling sandbags to tidying up the kitchen and the office we were working out of, doing all the things we were too busy to do while we were running around.
“So many people dropped off food they baked for us or soft drinks because they wanted to help out. It was unbelievable.”
Ms Sheppard concurred, labelling the community ‘amazing’.
“Groups like the footy club have been helping whoever needs it, so I know I’m going to get lots of support whenever the time comes that I can get [into my house],” she said.
“Your life gets turned upside down for a while … but we’re coping well considering the circumstances.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and people are struggling, but it’s an amazing community. Everyone is there for each other.”