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Thousands still without power as authorities reveal evidence of cracking at Yallourn power station mine

Monday June 14, 2021 - 13:36 EST
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Kalorama resident Bec Gillard says they have been left to fend for themselves. - ABC

More than 25,000 properties are without power across Victoria, with the state government saying it is concerned a brown coal mine at a Latrobe Valley power station may flood.


In an update on Monday afternoon, Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said there was evidence that cracks had appeared overnight on the side of the mine at the Yallourn power station.


"It's a dynamic situation, we could have something that could mean a flood inside the mine that could happen with very little notice," she said.


The Energy Minister also revealed that as of midday Monday, more than 25,000 customers remained without power, with the bulk of those people in the Dandenong Ranges area in communities including Olinda, Monbulk and Belgrave.


She said last week's severe storm had significantly damaged power infrastructure, as well as the telecommunications network.


Some community leaders, including a CFA captain from the Dandenong Ranges community of Kalorama, have criticised the Victorian government and called for more support in the wake of last week's storm.


Meanwhile, Victoria's Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said authorities were bracing for more wet weather later this week.


He said the effects of last week's storm had been serious across the state, "from Trentham to Traralgon".


Mr Crisp said more rainfall was forecast from Wednesday, possibly increasing the intensity of flooding.


"Given we've already got extremely saturated ground and we've already got flooding in some particular areas there is a very real chance that we will move from minor to moderate, and even in some areas, moderate to major flooding," he said.


He urged people to check the latest information on the VicEmergency app and to keep across warnings for their area.


Cracks at brown coal mine at risk of flooding


Ms D'Ambrosio said all staff at the power station and mine that could be at risk had been evacuated a few days ago.


"In the event that there is a breach and water does flood into the mine, all indications and all expert advice is that the impacts of such a flooding would be confined to the mine," she said.


"That is, neighbouring communities and neighbouring infrastructure will not be impacted."


The power station, which supplies about a fifth of Victoria's power, has been operating at a reduced capacity in the wake of last week's storm and associated flooding.


Ms D'Ambrosio said the Victorian government had sought advice and been assured by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) that there would be sufficient energy supply across the state if the mine did flood.


She said there would be no threat to the state's power supply "for the foreseeable future".


"We know that a flooding event would certainly put the mine and the power station in a debilitating state for many, many weeks, if not months," she said.


Communities in crisis ask for more help


Kalorama CFA captain Bill Robinson has lashed out at the Victorian government, saying it is not doing enough to help communities trapped in smashed, dark homes five days after wild weather battered the state.


Mr Robinson said the government had failed to realise the enormity of the storm that he compared to another Black Saturday.


"It's an absolute disaster. Black Saturday would have been similar," he said.


"There is a whole list of problems that the government hasn't realised that are occurring up here.


"And nobody other than the mayor of the Yarra Ranges has spoken to us."


Mr Robinson called on Acting Premier James Merlino, who is also the Member for Monbulk, to come and visit the area, in Melbourne's east, and speak with residents.


"You need to get up here and look at it, and you need to get up here and talk to the people because the people are angry," he said.


Kalorama resident Bec Gillard has backed calls for more help.


"If it hadn't been for the CFA crew up here in Kalorama, nothing would have been done," Ms Gillard said.


"They are feeding people. We have got warmth here, someone to talk to ?  that's one of the biggest things too because people have been left by themselves."


Ms Gillard said government officials had been missing from the scene.


"There is no-one up here," she said.


"No-one has come up here to see if anyone is alright.


"Come and help us. Pay attention to what is going on here. It's not just a couple of trees. It's the whole mountain needs help and a lot of help."


On Sunday, Mr Merlino announced a Commonwealth and state jointly funded emergency re-establishment assistance for households up to $42,250.


He said it would provide for a range of relief measures, including accommodation and repairing damaged houses.


In a statement, Mr Merlino described the storms as "truly devastating" and said he had spent Sunday and Monday visiting affected areas.


"I live in this community and so does my extended family," he said.


"I have seen firsthand how our community has been impacted by the storms, as well as from visiting flood-affected areas in Gippsland yesterday and meeting with SES members from Emerald, Monash and Sunbury in Emerald today."


The Acting Premier said everything possible was being done to get communities up and running again.


Restoring power 'huge job'


Clean-up efforts are entering the fifth day after destructive winds battered Victoria.


Major reconstruction work is needed to infrastructure around Woodend, Trentham, Kyneton and Blackwood, north-west of Melbourne.


About 140 homes have been destroyed or badly damaged.


AusNet spokesman Steve Brown said he couldn't commit to a timeframe but people in Kalorama should get their power back in the coming week.


"There are 20,000 people without power across Melbourne's east," he said.


"We understand they are waking up for the fifth day without power. We extend our apologies."


Mr Brown said they had managed to restore power to more than 180,000 homes and businesses across eastern Victoria and their "absolute priority" was to get to the rest.


However, he said it was a complex situation with a lot of downed trees making access difficult. 


The bushfires that we had in east Gippsland about 18 months ago ?  at no point did we have more than 20,000 off power," Mr Brown said.


"This was 200,000 properties. 


"So this is 10 times the impact to our distribution network. So it's a huge job that we have got on our hands."


Indian by Nature restaurant owner Devesh Jangid spent last Wednesday night stuck inside the restaurant kitchen with his staff during the storm.


They were unable to get home before the wild weather hit.


"I've never been camping in my life, but we had the stove on to keep us warm," he said.


He said he was thankful the gas stayed on to help keep the group warm.


Mr Jangid said he had been using a generator since last Wednesday night to help him clean up his restaurant, and he had noticed the change in people's faces since the storm.


"Before they were normal, now they're sad," he said.


People 'very traumatised'


Yarra Ranges mayor Fiona McAllister said the full extent of the damage in the Dandenong Ranges was still unknown.


"The big focus area is up on the hill in the Dandenongs where the damage was profound," she said.


"People are very traumatised and still quite isolated up there."


She said thousands of trees had come down and not yet cleared off people's properties.


"That will take weeks or months," councillor McAllister said.


"The people who have to rebuild, that will be a journey of years. And then, of course, a big already emerging issue, as I'm sure you will understand, is trauma." 


Victoria State Emergency Service assistant chief officer Mark Cattell said it was probably the second-largest event they had ever had.


"We have had just over 9,000 requests for assistance in the last seven days. It's a big one," he said.


Mr Cattell said crews continued to help power agencies and road authorities clear roads and provide access to communities, both in and out of their homes and in and out of their township.


He said there they were prioritising the Dandenong ranges around Emerald and Lilydale. Hepburn Shire also had a significant amount of fallen trees.


"There is still a lot of power infrastructures that is still inaccessible or damaged and we have to do a lot of work to get the properties back on power," Mr Cattell said.


Mr Cattell said many trees in the storm-damaged areas were at risk of falling and needed to be cleared.







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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