Long road to recovery

Trees cover a house in the Dandenongs. Pictures: LILYDALE SES.

While the worst of the storms might be over and with power restored to many suburbs it would be easy to forget about the many people who are now without homes and have lost so much.

The reality of a storm, like the one experienced on Wednesday 9 June, is that it is far from over.

Lilydale SES unit controller Shaun Caulfield said driving around the mountain and Dandenongs, he has never seen anything quite like the damage he has witnessed over the last few days.

“I drove around yesterday (13 June) and I was with another member who has been with the SES for over 45 years and I’ve been here for 30 plus years and we were both just going, neither of us have seen this much destruction, entire streets where every house has a tree on it, with varying degrees of damage but pretty much every house has a tree on it,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of houses up there [Kalorama particularly] where there’s just nothing that can be done.”

Mr Caulfield said there will be many people whose houses cannot be repaired and will be a total loss.

Although the local community support has been overwhelming, Mr Caulfield said he feels like if these houses had been destroyed by bushfire, the response from the broader community would have been bigger.

“If these houses had been destroyed by a bushfire I think we’d be talking about it for a long time,” he said.

“But because it was a storm, we’re still talking a little bit about it now but I don’t think people are fully aware of the level of impact and destruction that a house with a 15 metre tree that’s two metres in diameter falling through it, makes the house just as destroyed and just as uninhabitable as if it has experienced a bushfire.”

With 15 SES vehicles on the hill over the weekend of 12 and 13 June, the Lilydale SES crew was able to reach most of the 1226 calls for assistance that had been made to their station..

Mr Caulfield expects as people are able to return to their houses or gain phone coverage and power once more, calls for help will continue to trickle in.

Montrose CFA captain Rob Waters said with wind, soil erosion and more rain over the weekend more damage will have occurred and expects it will continue throughout the week.

“There will be trees that are still very, very dangerous and people need to be vigilant of that because they can fall down and they can fall unexpectedly too,” Mr Waters said.

“Every incident we attend is very, very dangerous because the trees are so unpredictable that they can fall and we did see an incident where one dropped onto an SES vehicle over the weekend and that’s just as fast as it can happen.

“The Dandenongs are a beautiful area to live but they do come with some challenges and people need to be aware that whilst it is a beautiful area, it can also be a dangerous area to live as well.”

Yarra Ranges Shire Mayor Fiona McAllister said that crews were working to clear trees and debris, and provide access for services across the Dandenongs, where the storm hit the hardest.

“Over the coming weeks and months we’ll continue to see the impact of these storms unfold, and we’ll be working with AusNet Services, the State Government and other agencies to help clear up debris, provide safe access to community members’ homes and restore service,” she said.

“Already, the amount of debris collected could cover the ground at the MCG, and we’re stockpiling wood from fallen trees.”

Trying to give access to as many people as possible, Mr Caulfield said a large crane was onsite lifting and clearing trees from roads and houses.

But for those living in Kalorama and other majorly affected areas like Lilydale, Mount Evelyn and Mooroolbark, power restoration is not expected to be completed for a while.

“It’s going to be a very long time before Kalorama has power again because of the amount of infrastructure damage, the power infrastructure is going to take potentially weeks to repair. It’s just going to take time, there’s only so fast that it can be done,” Mr Caulfield said.