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Around 9 pm on Wednesday 9 June this year, the winds began to blow furiously and the hills around the Dandenong Ranges started to shudder and shake. Most had never heard anything like it.
Soon after, the first trees began to fall. They fell on top of homes, blocking access to roads, bringing down power and phone lines. For residents, it was dark and cold and incredibly frightening. Some were trapped inside their homes without power and unable to call triple zero for days.
There were wind gusts of up to 200 km/h. They think about 120,000 trees fell that night. Many are still unstable – I heard one fall the other day.
The power was out, the internet was out, so it was hard to let anyone know what had happened. When they finally did come, the emergency vehicles had trouble getting into the area because a lot of the roads were blocked by all the fallen trees.
How did you help after the storm?
A lot of the first volunteers who helped were people who had had trees fall on their houses and came to live with us in the parish hall. Their lives had been turned upside down, but they just got on with it and put all their efforts into helping others. It was amazing really.
The parish hall didn’t have electricity but we did have gas. We were able to make cups of tea and soup and provide a warm place for people to gather and shelter. We’ve been running the gas in the hall almost non-stop since this began.
What is it like at the moment?
It’s hard to really understand what happened until you come up here and see all the houses with tarps covering the damage where trees fell on them. Some houses are not going to be rebuilt for another 12 months at least, which means people are living in temporary accommodation, caravan parks or with neighbours. To be honest we’ll probably be clearing this up for two years or more.
People are tired but slowly getting into a new rhythm of things. Between the storm, the pandemic and all the movement restrictions, everyone is wondering: What does normal look like
Problems with the rebuild
Many people are exhausted and don’t have the energy to deal with insurance companies and to help the person on the other end of the line understand what they really need. We’ve had some caseworkers from AV come in to help recently, which has made a big difference – they know how the system works and can have those conversations calmly with insurance companies and others to get locals the help they need.
^ this number is approximate, based off current requests for assistance