When the rain came down on Wednesday 29 February, it marked the start of the wettest week on record for over 20 locations in North East Victoria, some by as much as twice the previous record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Hydrologists indicated the rain has exceeded 1993 levels, and approached the 1-in-100 year flood event record in the area north of Shepparton including Numurkah.
The flood saw a large multi-agency response with the VICSES being supported by VICPOL and significant numbers of CFA and DSE crews.
On Thursday 1 March the Tallygaroopna township was warned to prepare to evacuate as storm water systems struggled to keep up with the rain.
The Goulburn Valley area experienced widespread overland flooding, homes in Tallygaroopna and Katandra were inundated, and schools and roads were closed. Flows gradually began moving to the north west and the Murray River.
VICSES Chief Officer Operations Trevor White said an Incident Management Team at Shepparton and Divisional Commands at Nathalia and Numurkah were established and staffed by a wide cross-section of agency representatives.
CFA Chief Executive Officer Mick Bourke and Chief Officer Euan Ferguson accompanied COO White on a tour of flood-affected areas during the floods’ first week, giving them a first-hand opportunity to gain an appreciation of the impacts. They heard from many volunteers who had worked tirelessly to protect their communities.
“In a number of locations, CFA had a significant presence and played a prominent role due to the brigade being located in the affected towns. Visits were made to Katamatite, Tungamah, Numurkah, Nathalia and the Shepparton Incident Control Centre,” said COO White.
“At Tungamah, Captain Simon “Hector” Crawford explained that late last year a multi-agency exercise was conducted and the laying of sandbags was one of the areas covered by SES.
“When the VICSES Unit Controller from Yarrawonga Des O’Meara advised Simon that the Unit was not able to get to Tungamah due to the large number of Requests For Assistance in Yarrawonga, Burramine and Bundalong, Captain Crawford gathered his troops and used the brigade siren to alert the community, who rallied to the fire station and started the task of laying sandbags to protect as many properties as possible as the flood waters rapidly crept into the centre of town.”
Unit Controller Des O’Meara was Sector Commander at Yarrawonga and said the Yarrawonga Unit received excellent support from other local brigades at Bundalong, Burramine and Yarrawonga,
“Annual exercises and planning with local CFA brigades including training on floods payed dividends as the Yarrawonga Unit received over 200 calls for assistance in a two day period,” he said.
The Premier and Deputy Premier visited the Shepparton and Wangaratta areas on Sunday March 4, meeting communities and emergency services personnel.
When the water reached Numurkah, the community faced widespread inundation and the hospital was evacuated before being flooded. The SES issued dozens of warnings and updates throughout to keep the community informed as they pulled together to sandbag their properties.
Nathalia began preparations for the advancing floodwater. A metal levee wall - bought from Europe over a decade ago but never before used – was assembled to protect 176 properties from flooding. The wall was finished at 4pm on Tuesday March 6 – less than a day ahead of the water. Residents living in 17 homes outside of the levee were warned to evacuate.
Members of the Australian Defence Force and prisoners of Dhurringile Prison both pitched in to help fill sandbags along with the local football club and other community groups, protecting properties by forming a secondary levee behind the metal one.
When the water arrived, it was clear it would remain around the township for some time – placing unprecedented pressure against all the levees.
The water peaked at 3.25 metres, 180mm above the 1993 flood level, and receded very slowly over several days.
The wall held, but as water seeped underneath through the ground, welling up on the other side through and around the storm water system, it took another enormous community effort to keep it at bay.
COO White said he, Mr Bourke and CO Ferguson had been amazed to see a large cross-section of the community working to fill sandbags at Nathalia when they attended.
“They worked together to ensure that individual properties outside of the levee could be protected and also to bolster the existing levee system,” he said.
“At the Parks Victoria Office, a Divisional Command centre was set up and staffed by members from VICSES, DSE, Parks Victoria and the local brigade and group. VICPOL also had a large presence to manage evacuation planning and both road and water traffic.
"It was an inspirational sight to see the whole community rallying together and working with the emergency services to shore up the protection of their town."
On Wednesday March 7, residents within the levee were advised to evacuate as it was impossible to guarantee the levee would hold.
As the water continued to creep towards Barmah, it cut roads and breached levees, but neither the Barmah nor Picola townships were extensively inundated, although outlying farm properties were isolated.
In Nathalia, residents living inside the levee who elected to evacuate, started coming home on Wednesday March 14, and those living outside were given approval to return on Monday 19.
On Tuesday 20, water had receded to the point where the levee wall could start coming down.
COO White and CO Ferguson agree that the work currently being undertaken by VICSES to develop flood awareness training packages for CFA and DSE members will be an important step to improve the effectiveness of multi-agency resources during floods.
"We have also now established a multi-agency approach to managing safety and issuing safety advice from ICCs and the State Control Centre and this appeared to work very well in the recent floods,” said CO Ferguson.
"The support provided to VICSES by the Fire Service Commissioner, CFA, DSE, MFB, VICPOL, AV, local government and other organisations during the recent floods was tremendous and demonstrates that a strong, joined up approach is needed for the future" said COO White.
The focus is now firmly on cleaning up across much of the region.
- The SES received 3556 requests for assistance during the event
- More than 1,200 SES volunteers were involved during the floods
- All told, 497,000 sandbags were used during this event
- Over the week, a record-breaking 533mm of rain fell at Mount Buffalo. Over the first night alone areas of Central and North East Victoria received over 100mm of rain, with higher totals recorded in Tallangatta (104mm), Yackandah (103mm), Chiltern (117mm) and Albury (104mm).
- Approximately 250 homes have been damaged and 1000 households have been displaced
- As of 19 March, 1191 relief payments had been made, totalling $1,083,175
- The Flood and Storm Information Line has received 1081 calls in that period
- The SES was ably supported by CFA, DSE, Parks Victoria, MFB, AV, SAU, VICPOL, DHS, DPCD, DH, DPI and BoM
- Information on flood recovery is available at www.floodrecovery.vic.gov.au