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Dandenong Ranges families hit by storm disaster prepare for a month without power

By Margaret Paul and staff, Saturday June 19, 2021 - 02:20 EST
ABC image
Marina Job and her family are preparing to live for another three weeks without power. - ABC

When storms raged around Marina Job's home last week, she took her young sons from their beds and brought the family into what she thought was the safest room in the house.

"I was literally thinking, I'd rather die all together or live all together," she said.

The family's Kalorama home remained largely unscathed, but the winds which brought down trees all around them have left at least 119 properties across the state uninhabitable.

Ms Job and her family live in one of the approximately 3,000 properties that are expected to remain without power until at least July 10, more than four weeks after the storms first hit.

After a week living with her parents, who were also without power and facing a water contamination warning, they returned home on Wednesday to a taste of what the next three weeks might entail.

With her partner Dylan Carroll working out of the house for much of the evening, and a baby too young to be put down or left alone, Ms Job tried and failed to turn on a borrowed generator for the house.

Ms Job, three-year-old Joey and six-month-old Matthais spent the night "sitting in the dark in the freezing cold".

A reprieve once she and Mr Carroll finally got it working was short-lived as it quickly ran out of fuel.

"It was a bit of a catastrophe," she said.

Maximum temperatures in the Dandenong Ranges have hovered around 10 degrees Celsius this week, with minimums approaching 0C forecast for coming days.

"I don't think people understand ? however warm the city is, we're always at least four to five degrees colder up on the mountain. And we get the winds, so yeah," she said.

"It snows up here. We need warmth."

The family had another generator on order, but with trees still down across many roads and non-locals being turned away, Ms Job was not sure if it would be delivered.

The generator cost about $2,000, which will not include the cost of fuel to keep it running. The family will help pay for it with a $1,680-per-week payment for those left without power.

The days and weeks ahead are uncertain for the family, and many others like it.

Ms Job's biggest initial concerns were food for the family and the growing pile of dirty clothes and nappies generated by two young children.

"You don't want to see my laundry," she joked.

Emergency food can be collected at the Kalorama Oval, but the family has dietary requirements which have made things more difficult.

Any trip to the laundromat or grocery store needs to be coordinated around the two young children.

And all the food needs to be non-perishable, as any generators used will be switched off overnight to prevent the fuel from running out.

"It's just a whole new way of living," Ms Job said. 

"We're learning."

Children's world's 'completely changed' by successive disasters

While Ms Job's family adapts to their new reality, six-month-old Matthais has just started teething, "so we're not getting much sleep".

Toddler Joey has been unsettled and throwing tantrums.

"I think we forget about the little people," she said.

"Their worlds have been completely changed."

His kinder, usually one of the highlights of his week, was struck by fallen trees and destroyed.

Eight schools in the Dandenong Ranges were initially closed after the storms.

Students in years 7 to 10 at Monbulk College were forced to learn from home ? some without power ? while repairs were done. Some primary students returned to schools without power and others were relocated to neighbouring suburbs due to damage.

Belinda Young, who runs the Mums of the Hills social media group, said she wanted to see more mental health support for children who had lived through bushfires, extended COVID lockdowns and storms.

"My eight-year-old son said to me ? 'I just don't know when there's ever going to be something good happen," she said.

The army is called in, but locals say it's too late

Kalorama, in Melbourne's outer eastern fringe, is about 45 kilometres from the CBD.

Locals in the Dandenong Ranges have told the ABC they felt ignored and neglected in the days following the disaster.

"To me, it should have been a state disaster for the amount of disaster that's been created around the area," resident John said.

"For just miles and miles and miles, irreparable damage."

Ms Job said it felt like people finally understood how serious it was a week later, when it became clear the power would be off for so long and the government requested Australian Defence Force (ADF) assistance.

Five ADF personnel joined the state's logistics and planning efforts on Thursday, and yesterday the government confirmed it would request another 120 members to assist in the recovery.

Ms Job said they should have been called in "so much earlier".

"I don't think anyone knew how bad it was," she said.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp on Friday defended the time it had taken, saying authorities had to work through the initial danger and assessments.

"There's no point in requesting 1,000 ADF resources if you don't know what you're going to do with them," he said.

Both Mr Crisp and Acting Premier James Merlino pointed to the more than 1,000 people currently on the ground working on the recovery, including volunteers.

Mr Crisp said the overall response, including from organisations like the CFA and SES, had been "absolutely incredible".

Ms Job said the community had pulled together while they waited for outside help.

"When it felt like nobody else was doing anything, we were doing everything," Ms Job said.

"So it's just been amazing. The community spirit up here ? there's nothing like it."


© ABC 2021

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