12 months on - storm anniversary
It is a year since the Yarra Ranges was hit by the worst storm in the region’s history, one that left a trail of destruction and a current damage bill for Council more than $16 million.
In one night, 177 properties were damaged, 76 of which have been deemed uninhabitable. Tens of thousands of trees fell, blocking roads and bringing down telephone and powers lines leaving thousands without heating and phone or internet connection for weeks.
Reflecting on the day, Yarra Ranges Mayor, Jim Child said the anniversary is an appropriate time to reflect on the work of those involved in the emergency response and acknowledge the community’s recovery and incredible challenges.
“It was a crisis that tested us beyond belief but people in this region are resilient, and we know how to look after each other. Not only were we dealing with the storm and subsequent damage, but we were impacted by Covid lockdowns and restrictions, and then the added loss of power, telecommunications and no water.
“An absolute stand out for me looking back was how the community came together to support each other in their times of need and how they continue to work hard going forward, making sure that there are opportunities to connect and spend time together supporting one and other.”
Council is aware that nine properties have been demolished and expects this number to grow.
To date, the cost of removing, processing and disposing of the fallen trees, and repairing roads has been $10.3 million, however the actual cost of the services supporting the recovery is thought to be closer to $31.4 million based on learnings from previous disasters.
Cr Child said, “We’re grateful for all the funds received to date that have supported our community which so far has been almost $14 million. We know this is going to take five at least for our communities to rebuild – not just the 12 months we have been funded for.
Many residents are still resolving insurance issues and Council is aware of some people living in homes that have been assessed as uninhabitable as they may have a portion of their house uninhabitable – eg a tree could have gone through a roof and damaged a bedroom, but the rest of the house is not impacted.
“Over the past 12 months a number of agencies have been available to help residents with the process of rebuilding but for some residents, rebuilding has not even started yet and these services need to continue,” added Cr Child.
Bushfire Recovery Victoria provided Council with $3.5 million for staffing costs for 12 months to cover the department that is coordinating the recovery for Yarra Ranges Council. Planners, community and economic development officers, along with environmental, finance and communications staff are included in these positions.
Emergency Management Victoria has provided $7.7 million towards the initial emergency response and some tree removal.
The Department of Justice and Community Safety also provided an additional $2 million for a special residential kerbside branch collection.
Council has worked hard to ensure as much of the fallen timbers are reused locally. It has held two free firewood sessions and over 1,000 residents received 3/4m3 each. Approximately 17,000m3 of mulch was also provided free to the community.
Fallen trees have been reused in a variety of locations including helping to landscape the Yarra Valley Trails. Others are being provided to the community for use by artists or community groups including the Yering based, Lilydale and Mooroolbark Pony Club who have been making use of some new jumps as equestrian obstacles. Meanwhile some of the root balls have been given to the Department of Fisheries to be used in rivers as part of stock rehabilitation programs.
Cr Child said, “Blackwoods in particular are a very popular species of tree for artists and sculptors. We gave away 182 of them following an Expression of Interest process. We hope to see some of these trees make their way back into the community, for example, we’re aware that Badger Creek Men’s Shed will be using the wood once it seasons and we look forward to seeing what they will make.
Council has also received $190,000 from the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing which has funded a number of support sessions with specialist disaster psychologists and a program of activities that support the most impacted community. Council is also working closely with other agencies that have received state funding to refer residents who might benefit from specific case-management support.
Funds have also been used for community events which have enabled the impacted community to reconnect and share experiences, and will be used to support not-for-profit groups to assist with the clear up of some residential properties.
Cr Child said, “During this anniversary week, Council is hosting three sessions for the community to get together and just have a quiet chat, a cup of tea and some cakes or soup. These events are being held at Karwarra Gardens in Kalorama, Sassafras Hall and Mt Evelyn Community House. There are also a wide variety of community events taking place across the area ranging from BBQs to tree plantings. Council’s website has more details.”
Council is also supporting four Community Recovery Committees and has allocated $800,000 to address priorities identified by the Committees.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning have provided $300,000 to assist residents the complexities of planning and rebuilding matters and $48,000 for a biodiversity program that includes re-establishing tree hollows in the region either by using fallen trees with hollows or creating hollows where possible to encourage native fauna back into the area including the Powerful Owl.
Since June 2021, Council’s Recovery Planning and Rebuilding Team has been on-hand to offer advice and assistance for those going through their recovery journey. Along with one on one support the team have run specific planning and rebuilding events in March, April and June for residents who lost their homes which included presentations from planning consultants, landslip experts, architects and Dr Rob Gordon.
In addition to these events, planning permit fees for properties damaged or destroyed by the storm are waived.
Insurance issues have been and continue to be at the top of the agenda for many residents and so Council teamed up with the Insurance Council of Australia to host virtual one-on-one consultations where insurance company representatives offered free advice for storm-related issues.
Residents who have experienced trauma, damage or loss as a result of the June storm are also able to discuss their circumstances with the Victorian Storm Recovery Support Program that is coordinated by Windermere by contacting 0408 521 320.
Residents can also contact Council’s Community Recovery Team on 0477 056 265 for advice or connection to a range of support services.
Cr Child said, “Council now has ten facilities with internet satellites and eight have generator hook-ups so in times of emergency we will be able to have a location where people can go to connect with their loved ones.
“We have received $10 million from the Federal Government from the Preparing Australian Communities fund and we have a wide variety of programs being planned and undertaken as part of this. More information on those programs can be found on our website.
“Responding in an emergency is as much about preparation and planning as it is about the actual response and clean-up itself.”
“We recognise we still have significant work to do in recovering from the devastating storms of last year and we are continuing to work hard in rebuilding and preparing our community from this emergency and into any future ones.”
Further information can be found on Council’s Recovery website, www.yarraranges.vic.gov.au/recovery.
- Council cleared more than 300kms of roads (606 roads)
- Cleared 645 drains
- Fixed two bridges and 175 defects on roads and footpaths
- Collected 26,000m3 of storm branch material
- Machinery used:
- 78 excavators
- 72 tipper trucks
- 33 elevated working platforms
- 37 wood chippers
- 15 stump grinders and wood splitters
- 153 contractor staff, 16 road traffic control crews
- 20 tonnes of spoilt food disposed
- 15,500 residents attended the relief hubs for the first month
- More than 2,600 hot meals were provided
- 373 hectares of the Dandenong Ranges impacted with fallen trees