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Remembering the 1993 floods

Published 11/10/2013

For many in Victoria’s North East, October may bring back vivid memories of the major floods that swept through the area back in 1993.

For many communities across the region, 1993 brought the biggest floods in a generation, with nothing on record to rival them since 1916 and 1870.

Like the big floods before them, these events came after long wet periods, wet catchments and full dams. Following floods in September, October 1993 saw almost 300mm of rain fall near Benalla in just 24 hours, with towns such as Myrtleford, Benalla, Baddaginnie and Wangaratta experiencing significant flooding. Violet Town started flooding within three hours of the rain falling.

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Snapshot of 1993 flood impacts across the North East

* Benalla area: Significant damage in the Benalla and Baddaginnie townships and surrounding rural areas. 1,500 were people evacuated and about 1,000 homes and businesses, including the art gallery, town hall and government buildings were flooded.

* Ovens and Kiewa River Valleys: 260 houses and 75 businesses were flooded and bridges were damaged, Doughty’s Bridge in Bright washed away and the Great Alpine Road closed with the only access to Bright and Myrtleford via the old train line embankment.

* Myrtleford area: 90 homes and 32 businesses flooded.

* Wangaratta area: Wangaratta was a giant island with no access into or out of town. 516 houses were flooded.

* Shepparton and Mooroopna: 1993’s “Broken River” flood inundated large areas of the Greater Shepparton City Council. 30 homes and several businesses flooded with 200 homes and 10 businesses under immediate threat (compared to 600 homes flooded and 1,000 under threat in 1974’s flood). Properties along the Broken River were significantly affected. If the same height flood happened today, about 2,700 homes, businesses and industries would be affected.

* Violet Town: 40 houses flooded.

Snapshot of 1993 flood impacts in surrounding rural areas

* Widespread damage to farms, homesteads, community infrastructure and facilities such as halls, schools, parks, sporting facilities, roads, bridges, and water and sewerage systems.

* Damage or destruction of pumps, machinery, haystacks and more than 1,200 kilometres of fencing

* Extensive livestock losses: more than 1,000 cattle, 4,200 sheep, hundreds of pigs and poultry.

* Severe damage to local crops, orchards and vineyards.

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More recent floods in 2010 and 2012 have also been making marks in the record books. Floods along the Murray River in 2010 and the Moira Shire and parts of Greater Shepparton City Council in 2012 now hold the highest flood record along many sections of local rivers and creeks.

Many areas of the North East are flood-prone and can experience some kind of flood after very heavy rain. Depending where the rain falls and how fast, flash flooding can come and go within a few hours anywhere. Flooding of the rivers and creeks can start within a few hours of rain and last for several days in some areas. Big floods can move quickly and have strong currents - powerful enough to push vehicles off roads and wash away bridges.

During widespread and serious flooding like 1993, conditions are dangerous and even deadly for people travelling in vehicles or sheltering in homes. Major floods bring major dangers and extensive damage to communities, local roads and bridges, businesses and farms.

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Improvements since 1993

No two floods are ever the same but floods like this or worse could happen in the future. So what has changed and improved since 1993 or 2012?

* Flood studies have provided many communities with more detailed flood information and maps that can show where floods are likely to happen and which properties might be affected. Studies often lead to flood works being carried out in vulnerable areas to improve safety and reduce flood damage. Flood education is one of the most important ways to improve safety and reduce damage.

* Council and SES Flood Emergency Plans have and are being updated and include evacuation planning, local knowledge and arrangements with other emergency services to support SES during large floods.

* FloodSafe, the SES flood safety education program, is for people in flood prone areas. Never riding, driving, walking or playing in floodwater and moving people, pets and possessions away from floodwater saves lives and reduces damage. During the last year, over 80 local flood guides have or are being developed for flood-prone areas including in the North East: Seymour, Murchison, Walwa and the Upper Murray, Shepparton and Mooroopna, Nathalia, Numurkah, Violet Town, Yea, Benalla, Wangaratta, Myrtleford and Jamieson.

* Improvements to community warnings. Emergency Services can now use improved community warning systems such as Emergency Alert and Community Warning Sirens.

* Emergency broadcasters, especially local radio stations help to keep communities informed.

* Communities can work together with their neighbours and SES to help build resilience to floods, better understanding of flood warnings, knowing how to be ready for floods, where to find flood information, helpful websites, the SES Facebook, Twitter and emergency information phone line, down to watching the weather and rainfall happening around them.

* Several communities have built or increased the height of levees to help protect areas of towns. Levees however are built to protect property not people. They are not “flood-proof” and should never be relied upon to keep people safe. Levees can and do fail and can be overtopped by floods higher than they were built for.